“You thieving treacherous little shit! To think that I actually liked you and let you touch my lady bits. I’m going to slice your face off with a cheese grater and then feed your testicles to my girlfriend!”
No, this isn’t a quote from a lost John Waters film spoken with the perverse and pathological panache of the filthiest person alive, Divine. Nor is it the hysterical Mink Stole or any of the other maniacal Dreamlanders. These seething lines were spat from the mouth of Louise Linton.
Yes, that Louise Linton, the wife of the former Secretary of the Treasury and Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin. If you need a refresher, Mnuchin’s better half is a Scottish actress best known for coyly holding up sheets of cash emblazoned with her husband’s signature while wearing glamorously wicked elbow-length black gloves (move over, Emma Stone’s Cruella De Vil!). Linton also hit the big time after at some wayward “cute” and “adorable” Instagram commenter revolted at the sight of Linton flaunting a ride in a government jet to Fort Knox in high-end fashion with hashtags like #rolandmouret, #hermesscarf, and #valentino (My favorite part of Linton’s Instagram screed was her recommendation that the commenter “Go chill out and watch Game of Thrones. It’s fab!” Thanks for the tip!).
Linton’s inventive and aggressive use of kitchen utensils and threatened testicle munching come courtesy of her protagonist Catherine Black, a “materialistic, narcissistic, self-absorbed, raging misanthrope,” who is also an impossibly wealthy hedge fund manager and a cannibal serial killer, in the film Me You Madness. And lest you think she simply recited those lines, no-no. In addition to starring, Linton wrote, directed, and produced this instant camp classic herself.
In Camp: The Lie That Tells The Truth, Philip Core defines camp as, among many other things, “the heroism of people not called upon to be heroes.” Louise Linton shouldn’t be a hero-certainly not one of our camp heroes! But, whoo boy, is she ever with her alarming and menacingly hilarious film. Me You Madness is Showgirls with homicidal tendencies. Pure, unadulterated camp bliss.
Now, I know, I know. I can hear your gasping and recoiling from here. Some may be mad that I even watched the film, let alone want to praise it and place it within the coveted camp canon. The New York Times also realized this tension in viewership, understanding some may not be able to just give in and enjoy it. The Times’ Brooks Barnes writes, “Some will see it as a camp-tastic dark comedy, rewinding it over and over again to make sure they saw what they just saw. Others will dismiss it as the Hollywood vanity project to end all Hollywood vanity projects.”
I bet you can guess which team I’m on. It took me about three hours to get through the 90ish minute movie. Why? Well, let’s just take the opening of the film itself. After emasculating one of her employees (“I won’t persecute you for having a penis, Patrick, more for your piss poor judgment!”) while wearing gleaming gold boots, Catherine spots a spider wiggling its way on her desk, which inspires a monologue about…you guessed it!…spider sex. Scooping up the doomed spider with her Ferrari red nails, she muses about how spider sex is “an infamously dangerous activity especially for males.” “Males will be males,” she continues. “They want it so badly, they risk copulatory suicide in order to get it.”
Then she pops the spider in her mouth. And eats it! And then the scene is just over as if she didn’t just munch on a spider. After this, the only reasonable response is to hit pause and howl with laughter so loud that your neighbors complain.
This isn’t to say, though, that I don’t agree that Me You Madness is “the Hollywood vanity project to end all Hollywood vanity projects.” It is certainly that. It’s not as if Linton had a long resume before creating her own magnum opus, starring in such classics as Cabin Fever, Intruder, and CSI. She did, of course, get lauded in Maxim Magazine as “the hottest thing to come out of Scotland since microwaved haggis.” Is that a compliment?
But, what’s wrong with vanity projects if they satisfy our camp impulses? Me You Madness was very clearly made by someone who had absolutely no restrictions on what she could or could not do. I mean, it starts with a spider snack. And because of that, it’s a monument to cinematic excess, homicide, and hilarity. In this, it’s reminiscent of another celebrity vanity project obsessed with the grislier side of creation–Tyra Banks’ 400-plus page deranged odyssey Modelland, which is, in fact, much more disturbed than Me You Madness. But the point stands, vanity projects can allow for the aesthetic boundary-pushing and poor decision-making that are the building blocks of a camp classic.
Besides the shock and awe that makes it one of the most berserk films I’ve seen in recent memory, Me You Madness has a relatively simple plot. To enact revenge and satisfy some bloodlust, Catherine lures petty thief, grifter, and California slacker Tyler, played by Gossip Girl’s post-#MeToo-ed Ed Westwick (apparently these are the roles you have to take after being canceled), to her opulent Malibu mansion under the guise of renting a room. Now, why would someone that rich rent a room in her mansion that looks as if it’s lit by neon art pieces of panties and cigarettes alone? Good question! And it’s one that nobody answers except Catherine’s weak explanation that she needs a “babysitter” for her house. For his part, Tyler is there to case the place but falls for Catherine after a decadent molly-driven threesome with Catherine’s hot girlfriend Yu Yan, all to the tune of Måns Zelmerlöw’s cover version of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac.”
And who wouldn’t? Catherine is, as she says, “an ILF, not a MILF.” She’s not a mother! She’s successful, vain, and thoroughly materialistic (“I’m happy when I wake up because I remember that I’m me and my life is incredible….Fashion is the most important thing in my life…I’m rarely if ever comfortable, but I always look completely stylish, which is much more important”). She also moonlights as quite an effective serial killer if her freezers full of bodies that look as if they came from the Spirit Halloween store are any indication. She’s part Patrick Bateman, part Hannibal Lector, and part, well, Louise Linton. She’s a sadistic psychopath wielding a curling iron as a weapon in couture.
And though she may seem like the perfect woman, or at least she does to me, she doesn’t hesitate to admit her flaws: “For example, I’m an addict. Cocaine, champagne, excessive exercise, sex, expensive shoes, and indescribable violence.” If we want to dip our toes into more analysis and take it a little more seriously (though I don’t think it’s warranted at all), I found Me You Madness refreshing in that Linton provides us with a contemporary woman serial killer whose crimes aren’t explained away by trauma. Catherine is pure spider-eating pleasure-seeking id.
She boogies around with disembodied limbs to Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It For The Boy.” She screams, “Watch where you’re going, cocksucker!” out the window of her James Bond car. She exercises to cartoonish sound effects (boings, squeaks, honks, bings) in a tight pink leotard before announcing, “Man, I’ve really got to take a dump.” She farts in Tyler’s face during a fight. She feeds human meat to Tyler while Yu Yan sneers in Mandarin: “You’re eating another man’s testicles…moron.” She muses with eye-popping aplomb: “And there it is, the gaping chasm between us–the mind-blowing ignorance and stupidity of the late millennial generation. I think I’m going to disembowel this kid and eat his spleen.”
Let’s face it–she’s one of the filthiest people alive.
Tyler isn’t the only one with feelings, however. Catherine dramatically tells Tyler to leave because she strangely doesn’t want to murder him (“I needed to be alone or I was going to fucking kill him and for once, I didn’t want to.” Ah, love!). In response, he steals her car in which lies the bloodied body of her bloated fellow spin classmate (In her defense, who can say they never wanted to bash someone’s brains in after being in a workout class? I certainly can’t!). Threatening to out his grifts if he doesn’t return her car, the last forty minutes of the film is basically a “will they or won’t they” except, instead of romance, it’s murder, as they beat each other up, threaten to spill $50,000 wine on a white sofa (or couch), and argue about the pronunciation of Van Gogh.
Beyond the homicide and costume changes (Catherine changes her outfit six times in just the final attempted murder scenes alone), most of the film is really a collection of dance sequences set to kitschy 80s music from The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited” to Taylor Dayne’s “Tell It To My Heart” as if they came straight from our Filthy Dreams’ playlists. It’s hard not to connect Catherine’s cheesy violence soundtrack with Andrew Cunanan’s murder spree dance breaks to “Gloria” and “Pump Up The Jam” in Ryan Murphy’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. And with the Nicolas Winding Refn Drive and Neon Demon lighting, as well as the emoji unicorn flourishes throughout Catherine’s house, the film seems as if it’s a series of music videos all stitched together with an American Psycho fourth-wall-breaking voiceover.
Linton is certainly aware of her cinematic influences or plagiarism. I mean, Catherine even says so herself: “You may think this is a straight rip-off of American Psycho and in some ways, you may be right, but this is a woman’s tale. We, women, are having a moment right now and this is what we call in Hollywood an elevated story concept, meaning the same but different so shut the fuck up, turn off your cell phones, and enjoy the movie.”
This isn’t the only meta cinematic reference in the film. Linton is clearly a horror connoisseur with scene after scene of Catherine musing about what weapon she’ll use to slaughter Tyler while listing off films (sometimes in a high-pitched sped-up voice) that employed these weapons as she searches for one that isn’t cliché or derivative. A gun? It’s been done. Nunchucks? Though fun to say, they’ve been done too in Bruce Lee’s films. A chainsaw? Nah. Too many Texas Chainsaw Massacres. A tennis racket, though, seems new. As Catherine vamps, “Eat it, Maria Sharapova!” One unintended effect of these movie citations, though, is reminding viewers of better films you could be watching.
But, who would turn to something else with dialogue like this:
“You stole from me even though we zinged.”
“We did zing, didn’t we?”
“Zing a ding”
“Zing a ding a ling dong”
“In case you kill me, I think I’m madly in love with you.”
“I will definitely kill you but I’m madly in love with you too.”
Or maybe my favorite title reference:
“Me and you? It’s madness…”
Now, Me You Madness isn’t a good film per se. This also isn’t the Oscar-bait failure of Cats or Hillbilly Elegy. It’s not necessarily so bad it’s good either. The film occupies a strange and, at least for me, alluring middle ground between intentionally and unintentionally funny, and I have a hard time figuring out just how much of Linton’s camp is purposeful. She is clearly aware that it’s camp as she tells The New York Times: “It’s a fun, harmless movie — a campy, playful homage to femme fatales.” Plus, you don’t have a character announce: “Whoever wrote this is a fucking genius” if you intend on being serious.
About an hour into the film, I began wondering: who is this film for exactly? It’s certainly not for many critics who seem to want to read the film through the lens of the Trump administration, including NBC News who humorlessly admits they “almost loved it” before analyzing the film in relation to economic and social inequality. As Meredith Clark writes, “As I watched “Me You Madness,” it was hard not to think about the countless artists and creative people who never get opportunities to pursue their dreams because they lack resources and time. (It’s not like there was a lot of plot to focus on.) The entertainment industry is full of racism, sexism and nepotism, and for every success story like those of Shonda Rhimes, Cord Jefferson, Steven Yeun or Chloé Zhao, there are thousands of female, Black and/or brown artists who have suffered disappointments and indignities in the industry whose dreams — and even genius — we’ll never get to see.”
This is a very serious take for a not-so-serious movie. I mean, you too could marry rich like Louise and make your own psychotic film! Think big!
Ok, sure, you could watch Me You Madness and wonder how many people’s houses Mnuchin had to foreclose on in order to make enough money for this film. Or fantasize about Linton using my $600 stimulus check I never received to pay for more neon (fine with me!). Eventually, Clark concludes, “It’s a knockoff Louis Vuitton bag of a movie, an objectively ugly and poorly made attempt to claim status that hasn’t been earned. It’s a perfect artifact of the Trump era.”
As someone who dove headfirst into the Trump administration’s aesthetics, I disagree. In fact, I find Me You Madness to be a slight deviation from Trump’s own disco-loving conservative camp, of which he’s held with a tiny-handed stranglehold now for five years. I mean, Louise has said several times that she’s a liberal and in the film, Catherine tells Tyler she only kills bad people, listing off their crimes including “Republican.”
The film does however certainly act as commentary on Linton’s own identity as a reviled public figure. As she told Fox News, “In some ways, this character, Catherine, is almost like a parody, a caricature and a satire of that media persona, which I think couldn’t be further from who I am as an actual person.” In fact, the film made me reconsider how much of Linton’s criticized behavior was camp itself. Maybe she was just method acting! Or becoming the villain we wanted her to be!
But, besides any political theorizing, can’t we just enjoy bad things made by bad people? We’re in a moment in our culture where even terrible camp films have to pass some political and ideological purity test in order to be enjoyed. I think that’s a mistake. I mean, how boring is that? And beyond boring, it’s also short-sighted. Camp has always had dubious politics. Though often connected with queerness, camp doesn’t exactly frequently exist on righteous and unproblematic political or social ground. Camp historians like Mark Booth connect the aesthetic to the excessive grandeur and decadence of Versailles as a “camp Eden.” A Hollywood vanity project made by a former Cabinet member’s wife certainly pales in comparison to this lavish camp history.
Me You Madness can be camp heroism, even though it’s a film you shouldn’t like. And maybe because it’s a film you shouldn’t like. Why deny ourselves guilty pleasures simply over partisanship? What joy are we losing if we resign ourselves to “almost loving” trash because we are dead-set on being as divided as possible? As Philip Core writes, camp “will find new ways to react with and against public tastes, it will selfishly and selflessly shriek on, entertaining the self and the spectator in one mad gesture, oblivious of what it is required to do.”
So let’s not just stick to what we’re required to do either. And hey, maybe you’ll learn something from Catherine’s happily-ever-after anti-psychotic medication-driven transformation in which she reminds viewers: “It’s not nice to judge other people on their looks, beliefs, political persuasion or lifestyle choices, people. Let’s all just be a little kinder to one another.” Or if not, you’ll at least leave with some tips about not leaving pets (or children, I guess) in hot cars or how to cut human flesh without the mess (“Always cut flesh skin side down for an even edge”).