Serial Mom allows John Waters to explore his darkest interests, but his version of a suburban mother gone haywire is striking on a few levels.
Reviewed by Mike Emery, Fri., Aug. 3, 2001
D: John Waters (1997); with Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterston, Matthew Lillard, Ricki Lake.
Director Waters has never denied his fascination with court trials or mass murderers. In his autobiography, Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste, the filmmaker gleefully recollects his excitement brought on by the Manson saga (even striking up a friendship with Family member Tex Watson). Serial Mom allows him to explore his darkest interests, but his version of a suburban mother gone haywire is striking on a few levels. Kathleen Turner plays Beverly Sutphin, the wife of an affluent dentist (Waterston) and mother of two teenagers (Lillard and Lake). She's literally the model for morals. She recycles, is a great cook, loves birds, and is adamant about wearing seatbelts. Despite such good intentions, Bev harbors a sinister streak that causes her to snap whenever someone does not adhere to her standards. With that, a killing spree ensues, and Beverly could not care less whether the cops catch her. The supporting cast is great, particularly Waterston as the baffled husband. But this is clearly Turner's show and she runs wild with it. With a clean-cut, apple-pie image and gorgeous grin, she looks like someone out of a Fifties sitcom. And even when her mean streak materializes, it's difficult to see past this benevolent exterior. When son Chip asks if she's a serial killer, she laughingly responds, "Chip, the only cereal I know is Rice Krispies." It's not Waters' best work, nor is it his most commercial, but it is one of his most honest pieces. With its canonizing of human monsters and their trials, the director not only preys on his own voyeuristic tendencies, but ours as well.