TO DIE FOR is the movie that finally proves that Nicole Kidman can
act. She does the best rendition of an airhead that I can remember.
No, she doesn't just act natural. In this movie, loosely based on the
outlines of a true story, she clearly works hard at her craft.
Although it sometimes get a bit tedious and monotonous, her performance
never gets contrived or corny.
The movie opens with scenes of a murdered husband, Larry Maretto
(Matt Dillon), in his living room floor and his wife, Suzanne Stone
Maretto (Nicole Kidman), being accused of the crime. Many scenes
follow of both sets of parents being interviewed on an Oprah style
television talk show. We then flash back to happier times when Larry
and Suzanne are meeting each other and getting married.
Suzanne Stone is an aspiring young TV personality. What kind of
personality is not important to her, only fame is. As she puts it,
"You aren't really anybody in America if you're not on TV." Although
she starts as a gofer in a cable TV station in a small town, her
aspirations are as big as America. She obsesses with being the next
Connie Chung or Jane Pauley both of whom she thinks she is superior
to. Jane, she whispers to the audience, has "a tiny weight problem you
know." By sheer force of will, Suzanne becomes the "weather girl" on
this cable TV channel whose entire staff only numbers three.
There are many natural moments in TO DIE FOR like when Larry is
bowling with his sister Janice (Illeana Douglas) and looks over at
Suzanne in an adjoining lane and declares that he is going to marry
her. The cinematography (Eric Alan) of about a third of the movie is a
documentary style of talking heads and with a handheld camera full of
numerous pans and zooms. In a continuing series, we have an excellent
performance by Janice in her ice-skates talking about Larry and about
how much she hated Suzanne. This is not hard to fathom since when
Suzanne first meets Larry's sister she tells Janice how much happier
Janice will be if she gets some plastic surgery to make her skin
perfect. Suzanne then goes on to point out how Gorbachev would
probably still be in power if had had plastic surgery on his
In an autobiographical monologue that runs through the whole show,
Suzanne pontificates about life. She is always upbeat and smiling, and
she explains that "It's nice to live in a country where life, liberty,
and other stuff, stand for something." This is from a woman who gets
away with the murder of her spouse in cold blood. Coming so close to
the conclusion of the farcical Simpson circus, some viewers may find
this part tragic rather than comical.
The script by Buck Henry and Gus Van Sant Jr. and based on the
novel by Joyce Maynard is filled with scenes so hilarious that I had
almost uncontrollable laughter. That is the good news. The bad is
that there are wastelands of dead time between the laughs. The problem
with the non-funny parts is that the writers have not created
characters that you care about so that no matter how great Kidman's
acting is and no matter how hard you laughed ten minutes ago, you don't
care if the characters get used, abused, or shot. Dillon, for example,
doesn't have much of a part, and he certainly does nothing memorable
The heart of the story is the murder and how Suzanne seduces three
teenagers to kill her husband. The lead teenager, Russell (Casey
Affleck) is a cliche of a kid with an demonstrable IQ about the same
number as his age. In an attempt to become famous, Suzanne makes a
movie of these three losers from the local high school. The cable
station manager, Ed Grant (Wayne Knight), tells the cops "She must have
shot hundreds of hours with these three dory kids who had a major
problem reciting the days of the week."
As a director, I find Gus Van Sant Jr.'s style too eclectic for my
taste. This is not surprising since his last film was that major bomb,
EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES. Nevertheless, I do like TO DIE FOR.
Finally, I want to give a special mention to the costume designers
(Else Curtis and Beatrix Aruna Paszter) and the make up artists. They
do a wonderful job of making Suzanne into an extremely made up woman in
very brief miniskirts and yet they never go over the line and overdo
it. The pushed her look to the absolute limit, but never made her look
TO DIE FOR runs 1:40, and I think the editors (Jeffrey Arsenault
and Curtiss Clayton) should have left a few more entire scenes on the
cutting room floor so that the meantime to laugher was much smaller.
The movie is rated R for sex, understated violence, some profanity, and
about one second of nudity from a far distance. It is a soft R, and I
would see no problem in teenagers seeing the show. There were
certainly many in the audience where I was. I give TO DIE FOR a thumbs
up for Kidman's performance, for interesting docudrama style
cinematography, and for some huge laughs, and I award it ** 1/2.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes