The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom

(Michael Ritchie, USA, 1993)


Beyond Australian television's Frontline, there were several attempts in '90s cinema to satirise the ways and means of "tabloid journalism".

Films such as Bob Roberts (1992) and Man Bites Dog (1992), however, tend to be fairly smug exercises in derision, scoring easy points off the media's unquenchable thirst for sensation and its ever-growing cult of celebrity.

While Michael Ritchie's remarkable telemovie has similar jokes and shares roughly the same viewpoint as those films, it involves itself far more deeply in the insanity of its subject.

That long title is brash but honest: this is a true story, with several of the real-life participants lending their faces and houses to Ritchie's hilarious "dramatisation".

Wanda Holloway (Holly Hunter) really did crave so intensely for her daughter to be a cheerleader that she hired a reluctant hit man (Beau Bridges) to kill the opposition. Scenes of Wanda on trial, and her account of the story as told to the media, are meticulously recreated from the actual documents.

The film's humour is so extreme, so black that it approaches the neurotic, screwball farce of the Coen brothers' best, early comedies. Watching the furiously alienated antics of these hysterical women and wimpish men, one suspects that Ritchie and writer Jane Anderson have taken some serious poetic license with the details of the case.

Yet the very uncertainty that hangs over the film – fact or fiction? – is its true theme. For real life here was not distorted or misrepresented by the media; these characters were already living out their very own soap operas and tabloid exposés, as if playing to imaginary television cameras.

For Ritchie (The Candidate [1972], Smile [1975]), this was a striking return to form, probably his best film in two decades. Like Diane Keaton's Wildflower (1991), it completely transcends the drab conventions we have come to associate with American telemovies.

Ritchie's commitment to the project shows not only in the pace he give the scenes and the energy with which he infuses the performances, but also the lyrics he contributes to the film's many songs – especially the marvellous ditty over the closing credits: "Why Does There Have to Be a Song at the End?"

MORE Ritchie: A Simple Wish

© Adrian Martin July 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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