Die Mommie Die!

An amalgamation of films like “Mommie Dearest” and “Sunset Boulevard,” “Die Mommie Die!” is a campy gay comedy that will be an acquired taste for viewers. At the press screening I attended at the Sundance Film Festival, several audience members laughed all the way through, in particular at nearly everything spoken by the lead character, aging songstress Angela Arden, who is played by Charles Busch, in drag.

Other viewers, including me, found the arch dialogue amusing at first but eventually tiresome. Angela Arden would be hysterical in a series of five-minute “Saturday Night Live” sketches; Busch, who wrote the film based on his play, plays her with enviable flair and pitch-perfect melodrama, evoking the spirits of people like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Susan Hayward. But with a flimsy plot and a reliance on “aren’t-we-naughty?” gay jokes, a feature-length film quickly becomes insufferable.

Set in the 1960s, and perfectly imitating the dialogue of the movies of that era, the film finds Angela Arden at the end of her career. Her sister and singing partner Barbara died years ago. Her unloving producer husband, Sol (Philip Baker Hall), won’t grant her a divorce, even though he knows she’s carrying on with studly young bad actor Tony Parker (Jason Priestley). Her daughter, Edith (Natasha Lyonne), hates her. Her son, Lance (Stark Sands), loves her but is dumb as a rock and rather confused these days about his sexuality.

Angela kills Sol and makes it look like an accident, but soon everyone is suspicious. Tony, with an agenda of his own, begins affairs with both of Angela’s children, while the know-it-all maid Bootsie (Frances Conroy) interferes and offers platitudes.

The cast is fully committed to the style Busch and director Mark Rucker are going for, but they simply can’t sustain the laughs for the whole movie. Busch wrote “Psycho Beach Party” (2000), too, and that film had a similar uneven feel to it. You admire their dedication to what they’ve chosen to do; you just wonder why it has to drag on for 90 minutes.

C- (1 hr., 30 min.; R, some strong profanity, some very strong sexuality, a lot of nudity.)