Top critical review
12 of 17 people found this helpful
We All Have Our Bad Days...
on August 17, 2000
I am a hardcore Waters fan, but this is not my favorite film of his. I can't really think of anything I would want to change about it, however, other than maybe setting it in the 50's or 60's so Van Smith could have worked his costume magic. But even my least favorite Waters film beats most movies. If another director had filmed this, then based on the subject matter, I probably wouldn't have had any interest in seeing it. But hey, any movie containing the credits "Written and Directed by John Waters" (in this case, the credit is superimposed over an image of a pulverized fly who has just been swatted by the title character...he always picks the best shots for his credit, doesn't he?) I'm there, no matter what the premise is. Waters' films often center on 'troubled' but lovable female characters, and this one is no exception. Kathleen Turner does a great job portraying Beverly Sutphin, a June Cleaver-esque, devoted happy homemaker who doesn't even allow gum in her house, but has a short fuse and keeps a secret scrapbook (I wonder if it was from Waters personal collection) of clippings about serial killers. We don't know how long she's been killing, but the first half of the film follows a week in her life and the various neighbors and acquaintances she dispatches simply because they get on her nerves. Ever momentarily had an urge to kill someone when they stole a parking spot from you, badmouthed a member of your family, or committed an obvious fashion violation? Most women don't act on it, but Serial Mom sure does.
Again, only Waters could have pulled this movie and subject matter off. If you're a Waters devotee, then you are well aware that criminal behavior, trials, and serial killers are subjects near and dear to his heart-this is a man who is a self-confessed "trial groupie". With any other filmmaker, it could have been boring. Many probably would have been extremely offended by a movie about a lovable serial killer played for laughs (especially those who knew the victim of a violent crime) but the tone of the movie is so light and over-the-top that only people with no sense of humor could think it might condone murder. Who else but Waters could think of a victim being bludgeoned to death with a slab of pork chop (because she made the mistake of not rewinding a movie before she returns it to the video store) while watching a videotape of "Annie"? This is not the funniest Waters movie I've seen, but it has its moments. Among the funniest are the scenes where Beverly torments her neighbor Mink Stole with hilariously obscene phone calls to drive her over the edge. Also very amusing are scenes where Beverly's whitebread manner ("oh honey, the only "serial" I know anything about is Rice Krispies!") contrasts with the horrified stares of her family and neighbors.
I have to admit, I can't help but think how much more fun this movie would have been if Waters' favorite leading lady was still with us. After seeing Divine portray suburban mothers who are sweetnatured in general but can go ballistic when pushed too far, every once in a while I catch myself imagining what could have been...can't you just picture the look on Serial Mom's face as portrayed by Divine when Mink Stole makes the mistake of stealing a parking place from her in the supermarket lot?
Sadly, Divine is now making Heaven flashy instead of acting, but casting Kathleen Turner was also a stroke of genius. Turner is best in the moments when she goes from a harmless Donna Reed to Charles Manson within seconds when someone makes the mistake of annoying her- just watch her face. Waters fans should also watch for cameos /small roles by Alan Wendel, Traci Lords, Susan Lowe, Mary Vivian Pearce (I only recognized her from her distinctive voice) and though he doesn't appear in the credits, Waters manages to work in Don Knotts.
This is one of the few Waters films that I rent from time to time rather than own, but it's still lots of fun. I'll take one of Waters less memorable films over a teen slasher flick or anything starring Jean-Claude Van Damme any day of the week.