Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman) is a weather girl at a small cable station in New Hampshire, but she dreams of hitting it big one day and becoming a national news personality like Barbara Walters. Suzanne’s had her eye on handsome and successful businessman Larry Moretto, (Matt Dillon) they get married in short order. Suzanne never loses the desire for stardom, however. She films a documentary featuring three high school kids, a stoner burnout named Jimmy, (Joaquin Phoenix) a wise-ass named Russell, (Casey Affleck) and a lonely sexually confused girl named Lydia (Alison Folland) Suzanne pitches the idea of the documentary to station manager, Ed Grant (Wayne Knight) but the idea goes nowhere.
As Larry gets more enamored with the idea of a domestic life with Suzanne, Suzanne gets less and less enamored with Larry. She starts a sexual relationship with Jimmy, and hatches a murder for hire plot with Jimmy, Russell, and Lydia. Suzanne tells Jimmy that Larry abuses her, and if Jimmy would only kill Larry, they could run away together. Jimmy gets a gun from Lydia, but does he actually go through with killing Larry?
To Die For is an excellent movie. It’s a black comedy, a satire of those people so hungry for fame that they don’t know where to stop. It also satirizes the tabloid media culture that saturates this country these days. It’s also a fascinating character study of a manipulative woman who has tunnel vision about her goals and how to get there. She will step on, over, or through anyone who gets in her way. I know this is a work of fiction but I couldn’t help but think of people like Casey Anthony or Jodi Arias when I was watching this movie, women so hungry for glory, they don’t care how dubious their claim to fame is. The media that is only too willing to sensationalize people like this, and this movie illustrates that vicious cycle perfectly.
Nicole Kidman is luminous as a smiling, sunny, media savvy psychopath. When the viewer sees this movie, he or she wonders if Suzanne has been cooking up the whole murder for hire plot from the beginning just to make a name for herself. This is one of the best performances of her career. Joaquin Phoenix gives another great performance as a stoner kid who fantasizes about Suzanne, and is over the moon in love with her when she decides to have sex with him. He is a great actor. It’s also interesting to see Casey Affleck early in his career, Affleck plays a standard issue male adolescent jerk, but it’s nice to see that someone named Affleck can actually act.
The writing is by Buck Henry, who created the tv show Get Smart, and directed the movie Heaven Can Wait. It is excellent, funny and biting at the same time. Gus Van Sant, who also directed My Own Private Idaho, keeps things moving along at a brisk pace.
To Die For: Brings the tabloid media to life