I don’t know how or why I missed this one but I did. Featuring an all-star cast, phenomenal atmosphere and pacing, To Die For is a vibrant black comedy you simply must check out. It’s even loosely based on true events, telling the story of Pamela Smart from a slightly different angle. And you know the rules, first see the movie and then read about what really happened to avoid any spoilers. Drenched in satire, you can look at this movie as an excellent character study. Especially if you’re a fan of true crime.
To Die For starts like some obnoxious mockumentary but as time goes on, this gimmick becomes more and more engaging. By the end of it, I was starting to wonder why more movies didn’t use this approach. Nicole Kidman showed that she has incredible range along with young Joaquin Phoenix. We also have Casey Affleck in his first role and no less than three Oscar nominees: Matt Dillon, Buck Henry, and George Segal. And I’m sure you’re going to recognize most of the supporting cast.
All of them were excellent under the command of veteran director Gus Van Sant who made an exceedingly well-crafted movie. You really have to know your shit to get away with this atmosphere and retelling of a pretty fucked up real event. Van Sant’s next movie, Good Will Hunting was even better. Although there’s something so alluring about this one that I really can’t make up my mind which one is better.
Suzanne Stone wanted to be on television since she was a little girl. Little by little, she was getting closer to that dream until she got married. Then her dreams became reality as she got a job at the local cable station as the weather girl. You have to start somewhere, Suzanne thought as she started planning her next steps. And this is where things started to go wrong for her…
We’ll be exploring some pretty classic themes here as ambition, amoral manipulation and success all go hand in hand. All all-American themes, if I might add. And we’ll also look at the other side, of the more unfortunate ones. Again in line with the forced age-old narrative of winners and losers. All of these themes will be explored with a healthy dose of skepticism, subtlety, and surrealism. To Die For is an intelligent movie above all else and as such it’s worth watching.
It’s fascinating from the beginning to the end, especially with such an odd intro. I mean, tell me what’s the last movie you’ve seen featuring a grindcore song during the opening credits? We’ll also have the opportunity to hear Nailbomb’s Wasting Away in a mainstream black comedy, something I wouldn’t think of in a million years. Although it makes perfect sense since the real Suzanne and her husband were metalheads. As a metalhead myself, I remember a time in the early aughts when To/Die/For, a gothic metal band from Finland was all the rage. I didn’t like it, just to be clear.
But I digress, let’s get back to the movie. Some of the lines will stay with you as they’re thought-provoking as fuck. What’s the point of doing anything worthwhile if there’s nobody watching? This single sentence cuts to the core of how people define themselves in this tribal system of values. Finally, I cannot resist mentioning another black comedy about a woman named Pamela. The Thing About Pam, starring Renée Zellweger is actually a miniseries based on the life of Pamela Hupp. So, if you’re looking for something to watch after this movie, I highly recommend you check it out.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Joyce Maynard, Buck Henry
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Illeana Douglas, Dan Hedaya
Fun Facts: Meg Ryan was offered 5 million to play the role of Suzanne Stone and still turned it down. Nicole Kidman agreed to play the role for 2 million.