Drowning Mona

Drowning Mona (1999)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Bette Midler, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, Neve Campbell
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Trailers, Talent Files

Recently I was very impressed by Bette Midler’s touching, sensitive and dramatic performance as Jacqueline Susann in Universal’s release of "Isn’t She Great!" Now the dervish that is Bette Midler, is back in a drop-dead funny comedy… literally. Playing outrageous characters has always been a strength and a preference of Bette Midler and in this new comedy she can once again let go of her reigns and grimace, scream and screech on the screen, much to viewers’ delight. Columbia TriStar Home Video is bringing you "Drowning Mona" and before you even know it, you are captivated by this funny and exciting comical murder mystery.

Mona Dearly (Bette Midler) is – unlike what her last name may suggest – not a very popular woman in her local small town. One day, while borrowing her dimwitted son’s car, the breaks fail and Mona is going headfirst over a cliff, right into a river where she drowns.
Local sheriff, chief Rash (Danny DeVito) picks up the case, but what looks like an accident at first, turns out to be a serious murder case. Someone had fiddled with the car, causing the brakes to fail! Since no one liked Mona – as a matter of fact, everyone hated her guts – no one in town is interested in finding out who killed her and Rash is without help. People would rather celebrate her death than mourn it and on his own, chief Rash begins his search for clues. Within hours however, he realizes, that this is a rather unusual case, instead of trying to find out who killed, her, Rash suddenly faces the problem that he has so many suspects and potential murderers that his premise becomes to find out, who didn’t do it! Since practically everyone, including his own son-in-law-to-be seemed to have a very personal interest in seeing Mona go, this is not an easy undertaking and one by one, Rash explores everyone’s history and connection to the victim, and the more he learns, the less he likes it.

As I mentioned above, the fun part of "Drowning Mona" isn’t to figure out who’s done it, but to find out, who didn’t. Told through the eyes of the townspeople, most of what we learn throughout the movie is through second hand recollection and gossip. That however is what makes it fun, as you get to see the same story told from different people’s perspecitves, with each one putting an individual twist on certain events. The result is a dark comedy mix with a series of interesting revelations.

Although Bette Midler’s on-screen time in the movie is actually rather small, her presence permeates the entire movie. In every shot you can feel her looming presence, in every line of dialogue uttered during the film you seem to hear her bickering. It is incredible, just how present her character Mona Dearly is, despite the fact that she’s hardly there.

But she is not alone. The mix of characters the film presents the viewer with is rich, droll and amusing. A collage of dimwitted, cheap white-trash characters populates the film whose intellectual horizon ends at their unpainted picket fences. Each of these characters has its very unique side and traits, and although not a character study, the movie manages to bring out these facets in each character nicely through its witty script. Whether it’s "walking-on-clouds" Neve Campbell, "what’s-up-with-that-bad-wig" Jamie Lee Curtis, "time-to-reach-puberty" Casey Affleck or "did-you-switch-off-your-brain" Marcus Thomas, all the characters are fun to watch at any given time and makes you wonder where these people hid while civilization developed. Sprinkled with humorous and imaginative moments, like the stories about how Mona’s son lost his hand, are ultimately the icing on the cake of this infatuated comedy. Once started, you can’t let go but watch the film all the way to its end – which also may turn out very differently than what you would expect.

Columbia TriStar Home Video has included a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> version of the movie in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio on this DVD, as well as a <$PS,full frame> presentation. The latter is presented in an <$OpenMatte,open matte> transfer, which adds some image information at the top and the bottom of the screen to create the 1.33:1 aspect ratio that matches regular TV sets. Both transfers are beautifully clean and without distracting defects. Colors are nicely reproduced, rendering even subtle hues colorfully and without over-saturation. Some slight edge-enhancement has been applied to the image, but it is never distracting or truly noticeable while watching the movie. Blacks are nicely rendered and very deep, with a very good level of detail, and especially the <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer reveals a very high level of definition and detail. The compression is without flaws and without artifacts, making "Drowning Mona" a great-looking release.

The DVD contains audio tracks in English and French and especially the English <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix is rich and active. Making very good use of the surrounds there are a great many scenes in which the surround channels are engaged quite actively to create a bustling and lively experience for the viewer. With a good bass extension, the track has a wide frequency response that helps to give the audio a very natural quality. Highs are transparent and clear and without sibilance or distortion. Dialogues are well-balanced and always understandable, never being drowned out by sound effects or the music.
The movie features a great score that nicely embellishes the devious atmosphere of the movie, always finding the right tone for the music. It score is presented in a wide mix that adds depth to the track, with good spatial integration of the instruments.

As supplements you will find a great <$commentary,commentary track> on the DVD with director Nick Gomez. Entertaining and easy-going, the director shares many thoughts about the movie and has some great anecdotes to tell. In another section of the disc he also presents a series of deleted scenes, further explaining why they didn’t make it into the movie and also establishing the right context for these scenes. Listening to Gomez is fun and informative. He manages to strike the right balance between information and entertainment and he never lets up.

"Drowning Mona" is fun. It may not be the all-out laugh-fest you may expect, but it is a very entertaining and funny movie that offers plenty of laughs. The premise, the unfolding of the mystery and most importantly the menagerie of hilarious characters make this a very charming movie that will keep you engrossed for its entire running length. It is all so real and tangible – haven’t we all met someone like Mona at one point of our lives? – and yet it is so outlandish at times that it creates an off-beat atmosphere of mischief to the point that you may even find yourself rooting for the "bad guys"… almost. Either way, "Drowning Mona" is fun and if she hadn’t drowned, someone would have killed her anyway.