Serial Mom

Serial Mom

1994 Directed by John Waters. Starring Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, Justin Whalin, Mink Stole, Traci Lords, Patricia Hearst.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 22, 1994

The resurrection of Ms. Turner, via the man who gave us Divine and dogshit. Who would have thought? Exactly what the title implies, Serial Mom is Waters' take on both America's infatuation with serial killers and the media's seeming inability to report any murderous scoop without resorting to tabloid techniques. Turner is Beverly Sutphin, a suburban Baltimore all-American mom with an endless smile and a penchant for murdering those people who stand in her way (sometimes they're not even standing in her way; sometimes they're just… standing there). With a nuclear family made up of hubby Waterston, daughter Lake, and son Lillard (in a typical Waters touch, he's a gorehound -- a full set of vintage Aurora monster model kits deck his bedside wall and Herschell Gordon Lewis posters adorn his room). It's all so perfect that Waters has a great chance to turn it all upside down and disembowel this ever so happy family, but something's missing here. Waters has never been one for thorough character backgrounds, but it's downright annoying to be given absolutely no explanation for Mrs. Sutphin's sudden, drastic behavior. One minute she's Mom incarnate, and the next she's placing obscene phone calls to Mink Stole and running down her son's math teacher in the high school parking lot. Perhaps Waters reasoned that the sheer outrageousness of the situation overrode the audience's need for solid characterization, but either way, it makes you wonder “why?” Waters' regulars Lords, Hearst, and others are here, but they're mostly relegated to sideline roles (none have since been used as thoroughly as they were in Waters' Cry-Baby four years ago). The big question, is it funny? Well, yes, and no. Waters is holding back here, sticking to thematic ground that's been covered before and better. The gags are quick and barbed, but the wire seems blunted by the essentially one-note gag storyline. Once you've seen the prim Mrs. Sutphin stab someone and say “cocksucker,” you've pretty much seen it all.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More John Waters
Filthy <i>and</i> Respectable!
Filthy and Respectable!
Legendary transgressive film director and author John Waters comes to Fun Fun Fun Fest

Tim Stegall, Nov. 7, 2014

In Print
Role Models
In this collection of prose portraits of some of his cultural heroes, the legendary filmmaker regularly reveals more about himself than his subjects

Marjorie Baumgarten, July 9, 2010

More John Waters
Get Your Stank On
Get Your Stank On
Spy Kids 4 to open in Aromascope

Marc Savlov, June 27, 2011

More John Waters Films
A Dirty Shame
John Waters, America's king of trash, is back with this tale of sex addiction, fetishes, and mad, bad, lascivious squirrel sexin’.

Marc Savlov, Sept. 24, 2004

Female Trouble
Waters' over-the-top melodrama stars Divine in a tour-de-force performance as Dawn Davenport, a girl who leaves home when she doesn't get the cha-cha heels she wanted for Christmas. The film also stars most of the Waters' corps of regulars.

Marjorie Baumgarten, May 28, 2002

More by Marc Savlov
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Welcome back, Mister Wick: Everyone's favorite merciless killer gets more human and more intriguing

May 17, 2019

Carmine Street Guitars
Spend time with the quiet artisans who make the instruments that rock & roll is built upon

May 10, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Serial Mom, John Waters, Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, Justin Whalin, Mink Stole, Traci Lords, Patricia Hearst

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle