Monday, July 17, 2023

You Look Familiar...

Please tell me these kinds of things happen to others:

I've spent the last 23 years of my life assuming I'd seen 1995's Copycat, though in fairness, I also spent a lot of those years saying "I can never remember the difference between Copycat and In Dreams." Both were post-Silence of the Lambs mid-budget studio releases about serial killers and their relationships with Oscar-nominated actresses. Both were...well, that might be where the similarities end. Turns out, I'd never seen Copycat! And also, as I discovered today, all I remember of In Dreams (aside from APPLES) is that I always confused it with Copycat.

Who knew my brain had created a Highlander-esque situation for '90s serial killer thrillers?

Quick Plot: Dr. Helen Hudson (the always perfect Sigourney Weaver) is a well-known criminal psychologist with a lucrative writing and speaking career that focuses on her insights into murderers, including the recently escaped convicted monster Daryll Lee Cullum, played by Harry Connick Jr. in a way that makes you wonder how the same charm can make Christmas carols sound like butter.

Cullum tracks Helen down on a college campus lecture, cornering her in the ladies room after brutally killing her security guard. He comes a few breaths away from hanging Helen to death before being caught, leaving our heroine with a severe, understandable case of PTSD.

13 months later, Helen has rebuilt her life, The Net-style. She connects with fellow trauma victims over dial-up internet and gets her deliveries via a good pal clearly marked for death, especially when a new intrepid serial killer begins a tour in Helen's local San Francisco neighborhood. The investigating detectives (the delightfully capable Holly Hunter as MJ and "I always confuse him for Harry Connick Jr." Dermont Mulroney as Rueben) enlist her expertise and by golly, we've got ourselves a mystery.

Written by Ann Biderman and David Madsen and directed by Jon Amiel, Copycat is the kind of grown-up thriller that flourished in the early '90s and for whatever reason, seemed to have gone extinct. Maybe it was the influence of David Fincher's Se7en, which came out to shocked theatergoers just a few weeks earlier in the fall of 1995. The films share a subgenre and valid R-rating, yet they feel like such polar opposites in terms of their filmmaking: gritty and cruel in one, crisp and plucky in the other.

This isn't to imply that Copycat is light-hearted romp. While the post-Halloween 2018 years have made many of us wince when we hear the word "trauma", Copycat addresses the challenges of surviving a horrific experience with intelligence. The very casting of Sigourney Weaver, a bonafide action star who immediately suggests competent, intelligent strength, makes Helen's position that much more interesting. Here's an actress we associate with power put in the vulnerable, human position of processing something that has nearly destroyed her. The journey is fascinating. 

Add to that the absolute perfection that is Holly Hunter's MJ and some ahead-of-its-time understanding of male rage and. Hunter is always a fun performer to watch, especially when she gets to dig into the grit of a character. The plucky female copy would go on to be something of a standard in procedural stories, but her MJ is fresh, complicated, and fantastic. 

It's all the more interesting because our not. And that's a good thing! I won't go too deep into the details (how dare I spoil a movie old enough to now attend its own 10-year high school reunion) but the actual identity of our copycat killer is brilliant in its blandness. As Helen tells us in her opening lecture, these are men who are "quiet, unassuming, nice." Later, Helen finds better adjectives: sad, second rate, boring, and impotent. No one leaves Copycat remembering the killer: it's the women who hunt him worth watching. 

High Points
By golly, is there anything more satisfying than watching two great actresses interact with each other when playing rich, fully developed characters?

Low Points
This is no real fault of Copycat, but watching Holly Hunter down cheeseburgers made me wonder if this is the origin of the now-trite "hot working woman in a man's world who eats junk food" trope

Lessons Learned
A vibrator is a tool of survival

The upside of having a nervous breakdown is not giving a f$ck

Bullet-proof vests don't fit well under Miracle Bras

Time has been extremely kind to Copycat. I found this to be an incredibly enjoyable ride, and not just for its early Photoshop '90s nostalgia. Give it a go via Hulu. 

No comments:

Post a Comment