Sunday 8 February 2009

Ed and His Dead Mother (1993)

Director: Jonathan Wacks
Stars: Ned Beatty, Steve Buscemi, John Glover, Miriam Margolyes, Sam Jenkins, Gary Farmer

I think every household has its guilty pleasures when it comes to cinema. This is one that keeps getting mentioned within the family I married into, second only perhaps to the soft porn version of Cinderella, which I finally saw in 2008. Everyone's seen Ed and His Dead Mother except me, but now I can catch up, given that my better half picked up a DVD copy for me for Christmas. She gets to catch up too, because the fact that it's such a memorable film for the family, they only saw it on late night TV and never found a copy to own.

As the film opens, the Ed of the title is stuck in black and white in some bizarre courtroom. He's there because he's cut off his mother's head, though apparently he didn't kill her because she was already dead. We reach colour when he wonders just how he got into all this, and then the story unfolds in flashback. He's Ed Chilton, who has been running Chilton's Hardware since his mother's death almost a year before. He's still mourning her year, something his Uncle Benny thinks is seriously unhealthy. Then again Uncle Benny spends his time watching the sexy new neighbour through a telescope.

Life isn't exactly peaches and cream but it's entirely stable, up until the moment when A J Pattle walks into Chilton's Hardware to sell him life. Mr Pattle is a salesman and the commodity he has to sell is life itself. He works for the Happy People Corporation and he promises that for a simple thousand buck fee he can resurrect his dead mother. The cinch seems to be that no fee is forthcoming until delivery of the service promised, so there's no risk of losing any money in case Mr Pattle is some random nutjob who can't wield supernatural powers. Of course, given that this is a comedy, it doesn't quite work out the way you might expect.

For a start, Mr Pattle keeps finding ways to charge Ed more money. He's a slick salesman, after all: one who has a tan that sets off his perfect teeth and a sharp white suit with an intricately folded red handkerchief in his breast pocket. He even has a licence plate that reads R U HAPPY. So the initial $1,000 becomes $2,500 when he brings the varied pieces of Ed's mother to him in his trunk, missing organs that she'd had donated to science. Then it's another $400 when she drops dead in the front room, because life is a drug and each dose only lasts so long. It's an expensive business, even when you have a Happy People Good Customer Discount.

As you can imagine this is a really dark comedy, but it never has a nasty feel. It has a valid if basic message and has a riot telling it. The script is a good one but it's the cast that bring it to life, because they're perfectly cast. In fact the lead role of Ed could only go to one person and just the fact that he speaks the very appropriate line, 'Why does all this stuff have to happen to me?' is a gimme to the casting director that they have to cast Steve Buscemi. Buscemi is excellent, not just because he's always great at walking that fine line between social misfit and whatever else he chooses.

Ned Beatty gets the top credit, even though he's neither Ed nor his dead mother. He plays Uncle Benny with a perpetual and blissful calm; he may get rattled on occasion given the increasingly trying circumstances, but always returns to this blissful calm. Miriam Margolyes is perfect as Ed's dead mother, effortlessly stealing many scenes. The image of her bouncing down the pavement in a stars and stripes outfit chasing a collie with a hungry look on her face and a large knife and fork in her hands is going to be highly memorable.

Sam Jenkins is a lovely sexy neighbour, who falls hard for Ed but has a secret she isn't sharing. Gary Farmer is a favourite in this household, not just from a couple of recurring roles (as Nobody in a couple of Jim Jarmusch films and as the reservation police captain in the Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn TV movies) and he has fun here being deadpan as Big Lar who works at Chilton's Hardware, dealing with people who want to buy large pieces of equipment to kill people with, like the local priest who wants a bear trap to take care of his cheating whore of a wife. Best of all though is John Glover, who joyously evokes Bruce Dern's grin to play A J Pattle, the drug dealer dealing in life. I can see why it's a family guilty pleasure: now it's one of mine too.

1 comment:

Dee said...

I knew it would be. :)