To Die For (1995)

(On Cable TV, October 2017) Spoofing American society’s appetite for fame is self-obvious now that reality TV can launch mini-careers going all the way to the US presidency, but back in 1995, director Gus van Sant had to work harder with To Die For in order to present his mockumentary about an insanely ambitious woman working her way to the top of the local media ecosystem. Nicole Kidman headlines a solid cast made of competent character actors (Matt Dillon, Dan Hedaya, and the incomparable Illeana Douglas) as well as some up-and coming actors (Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck) who have since made a mark. Kidman proves surprisingly game to indulge in the film’s black comedy, preening herself up in a textbook-worthy depiction of psychological disorders. Everyone else stands in her shadow, mirroring how society tries to deal with such amoral dangers in its midst. The film runs a bit long (something that isn’t helped by the pseudo-documentary format) but is seldom dull thanks to the cast and the tone. While To Die For seems to have sunk back in relative obscurity these days, it’s still worth a look, if only as a precursor to the reality-TV era that would begin in earnest half a decade later.

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