Is that a double-entendre in your pocket?

The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest recognizes some of the worst writing in the English language. The contest is named for the author who so infamously began his novel with "It was a dark and stormy night." and went downhill from there. What's so interesting about this contest is that the entries are all quite bad on purpose and there is all this joy and abandon in appreciating the humor in something that on the surface appears to take itself so seriously.

Within the first five minutes of watching Die Mommie Die, I was thinking of this contest (not by name, I'm afraid). The film is so over the top, it threatens never to come back to Earth.

Consider the premise. We have an aging showbusiness personality, Angela Arden - she seems to have made her name as a singer, but also crossed over into film. Every misanthropic and self-interested trait you can imaging is heaped on her, like some combination of Mommie Dearest and Joan Collins. Relations in the family are strained, particular with her husband, down-on-his-luck Hollywood producer Sol Sussman, and suspicious daughter Edith. Her confused son Lance is somehow bedazzled by her though.

On the surface, this is perfect for some highly-wraught soap opera drama, with all sorts of potential for misfiring. But through in drag queen Charles Busch to play the lead, and give in to every impulse to mock the genre. The result is a transformation of bad - really bad, actually - into really good, even great.

The catalyst for much of the action is actor Tony Parker, played by Jason Priestly, who has been Angela's lover while Sol is away. Sol's unexpected return throws the situation in disarray. Angela hatches her own little plan, but clean-cut Tony seems to have his own Agenda, creating something beyond the love triangle, but with a shape not quite describable by modern geometry. Toss in Six Feet Under's Frances Conroy as the meek yet principled maid, and you've got a household with quite a lot going on behind the scenes.

The plot is certainly set up to create schlockingly bad situations, but it's the rapid-fire dialog that pushes the film from good attempt to blazing success. Every moment drips with double entendres, self-aware (but not that aware) comments, and viciously witty comebacks. The ending ties everything up perfectly, but with an edge, which fits this send-up of bad Hollywood films quite fittingly.

This is an adaptation of Busch's own stage play. Most adaptations leave you thinking about what form the material used to be in, possibly from its rambling dialog, or a fractured storyline caused by condensing the plot. In this case, the original material hardly needed to be played with - the dialog is quick, and the scenes are relatively short, ideal for the fast cuts of film. Really, all they did - and all they needed to do - was open it up a bit, pulling in more locations around the house, increasing the atmosphere a bit, and still making for a pretty cheap production.

The acting in something like this is always hard for me to judge. There is this need to wink at the audience about the sheer insanity, but still bring off the impression the characters are entirely within the story. There is no doubt that Busch gives a tour-de-force performance with inspired heights and depths to it - this is after all, his own invented role, and he knows the character, tiara to toe. The other characters do not have the same weight, and I feel like those performances can get by with that I want to call "veneer" - that way of pretending to be acting, exaggerating movement and voice - it's something we're all familiar with and we've all done. Whether or not the performances were easy or Oscar-worthy, the thing is, it works. And while I might give the credit largely to the script, I can't fault the actors for not getting in the way, so they certainly did their jobs. Give me a couple more years of this, and maybe I'll get more specific talking about actors, if nothing more than to seem like I have the veneer of someone who knows what they're saying.

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