A great performance from Nicole Kidman comes along about as often as I have sex with Natalie Portman!
Screenplay By: Buck Henry
Directed By: Gus Van Sant
I am not a Nicole Kidman fan, I usually try to avoid movies that I know she has a part in, that’s how little I think of her skill as an actress. Eyes Wide Shut was supposed to be the movie to show me that she could in fact act, yet I found her the one major detriment to that film. Still, in the back of my head I kept thinking of some movie I saw with her in it in the late ’90’s that I really liked. Not being in any hurry to seek out Nicole Kidman roles I let that thought slide away. Then one day I was looking at what Gus Van Sant movies I hadn’t seen, ever or recently, and there sat To Die For with Nicole Kidman in the lead. Thankfully Starz was playing the movie and instantly it occupied a space on my DVR. It’s Nicole Kidman though, so despite my love of Van Sant I allowed To Die For permanent residence on my DVR for months, until today.
I was immediately taken with Ms. Kidman’s performance, she nailed Suzanne Stone-Maretto. Not only was she very funny in the role with impeccable comedic timing but she played Suzanne so fake and artificial that she was perfect for what Van Sant was going for. Kidman’s Suzanne is equal parts stupid and insanely smart, she may not have much floating around in her head when it comes to common sense but she is one of the smartest characters I’ve ever seen when it comes to reading people. Suzanne gives every person she meets exactly what they need, but only enough so that it’s like a tease, a tease that leaves the recipient always coming back for more. Kidman presents all of this in a heavily mannered style, and in any other movie it wouldn’t have worked. But, with Van Sant’s delivery of the material Kidman’s performance isn’t just good for her, it is one of the best I’ve seen in the ’90’s.
Most reviews I’ve read about To Die For focus on the satirical aspects of the film, specifically fame and the desire to be on TV. While I do agree that those aspects are present, I don’t believe they are the focus of Van Sant’s film. The entirety of To Die For is fake, with a campy and artificial sheen to it, there isn’t a moment where I thought To Die For was supposed to be real. I don’t believe Van Sant was going for a strict satire, although that is a part of it, rather I believe To Die For is about this fake woman. It’s really that simple, the various subtext found within its run time is an added bonus to the main thrust of the film, to chronicle the life of Suzanne Stone-Maretto in a harshly clinical and comedic light.
I was ready at one point to levy the complaint that outside of Suzanne none of the characters feel fully fleshed out. In thinking about To Die For I realized that wasn’t a valid complaint, none of the characters outside of Suzanne are meant to be fleshed out. She is the star of the movie, the movie only revolves around her and the rest of the cast exists only to further enhance her screen presence. That’s not to say that any of them give bad performances, Illeana Douglas is particularly sharp in her role, but they do easily shrink to the background, just as they are supposed to do.
I didn’t expect to like To Die For as much as I did, fond memories aside it is a Nicole Kidman movie and that means it should have at least one major strike against it before I press play. Yet I find myself singing its praises as much as possible. To Die For is funny in a dark and slickly fake sort of way while Van Sant’s steady hand is seen at all times behind the camera putting together this wonderfully shot film. To Die For hits all its marks in the music department as well, but the movie is held together by a brilliant Nicole Kidman performance. She owns every second of this picture, even when she isn’t on screen her presence is felt, and for that alone To Die For is one of Van Sant’s best pictures and a movie you need to see.