Gypsy (1993)

The first part of this film, led by a manic Bette Midler, plays like “Toddlers & Tiaras” for the Great Depression era. Mama Rose (Midler) spends so much time immersing her daughters in showbiz and sick infantilism, insisting on making them wear little girl’s clothes well into puberty, that she forgets what is best for her girls altogether.

Though not as dark a musical as Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” or Lars Von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark,” “Gypsy” emanates a diseased kind of wistfulness, marked by broken dreams and shattered egos. Meanwhile Bette Midler plays Mama Rose as if it was her last performance on earth, but backed up by the stagy sets and old-timey attitude, her performance is actually a strength, not a deterrent.

Rose’s daughters, Louise and June (Cynthia Gibb and Jennifer Rae Beck), are as different as different can be, but remain close, their bonds strengthened by having survived their mother. Louise, gawky and shy, is innocent and soft spoken, while June, the “‘star” of mama’s show, is more political and assertive.

Mama Rose is both outrageously self-centered and ridiculously narcissistic, guided not so much by dreams as delusions. She ruins her daughters’ lives and later expects them to thank her for it. But it’s hard not to pity her as she struggles to find success in a world that doesn’t hand out fame easily.

Into this disastrous dynamic strolls Herbie (Peter Riegert), an agent who attempts to help Mama Rose on her way to success in exchange for her hand in marriage. But it seems that Mama can not be held down, and even Herbie may soon grow sick of her games.

There are some overtones in this film which could be considered an allegory for loss of innocence in the entertainment industry. The acting is good but not amazing, but the story and the music are the real reasons to watch this. The plot itself is based on a memoir by Gypsy Rose Lee (AKA Louise) who found fame at long last at the price of her innocence. Overall the movie is worth watching as a very good musical, with Bette Midler running the show as crazy Mama Rose. Recommended.

2 thoughts on “Gypsy (1993)”

  1. This is one of my favorite pieces of theatre/film in all it’s various iterations. While I prefer the big screen version with Rosalind Russell as Mama Rose and Natalie Wood as Gypsy this is a solid rendering of this tale of towering ambition at any cost. I think Bette is great as she tears into both the part and the score pretty much pushing everyone else out of her way, an essential component of Mama Rose’s make-up but it’s also the weakness of this version. In the ’62 version Roz Russell was a pushy monster too but that film had the star power of Natalie Wood pushing back, making the film more balanced. Cynthia Gibb is good as Louise but she doesn’t have Natalie’s magnetism, few do, so when Gypsy Rose Lee is born and takes the stage you don’t see what Rose has been pushing towards all those years. This is still an entertaining film, with that score how could it fail.

    1. The funny thing is, the only reason I watched this movie is that I was on a Micheal Jeter kick (he is one of my favorite character actors of the 90’s, unfortunately, he died from AIDs soon after.) He was only in it for a few minutes. But I still liked the movie. I agree that Cynthia Gibb was very naive and innocent- not pushy and manipulative at all as the original movie might have intended her to be. I haven’t seen the original, but I’m going to Netflix it right now. I liked the stripper song. With a unh and a unh and a unh-unh-unh!

      Michael Jeter played the agent they brownnose by stacking all the food in his lap. He also plays a figure from my childhood (the sinister clown in “Air Bud,”) the doomed Cajun in “The Green Mile” and the transvestite performer (“I want a debutante to step on my face!”) in Terry Gilliam’s “The Fisher King.”

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