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Saturday Night Social: Notes on Debbie

Illustration for article titled Saturday Night Social: Notes on Debbie
Screenshot: Paramount Pictures

I recently rewatched Addams Family Values, a decision that I never regret. From screenwriter Paul Rudnick’s impossibly joke-packed dialogue to Raul Julia and Angelica Huston’s incomparable on-screen chemistry as Gomez and Morticia, the 1993 live-action adaptation of Charles Addams’ macabre comic satire is, in a word, perfect. In two words: It fucks—something Christina Ricci’s Wednesday tells us in the film’s opening minutes. But on top of it being the rare children’s movie that fucks, bypassing the neutered double entendres found in contemporary Pixar fare, Addams Family Values also features a biting critique of American settler colonialism and the white supremacist mythmaking that continues to excuse it. I don’t know any other movie that does what it does.

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After this latest rewatch, I couldn’t stop thinking about Debbie, the black widow in creamy pastels who serves as the film’s primary antagonist. Here we have a woman who is probably a sociopath—not the kind who writes personal essays for The New York Times’ Modern Love column, but the kind who, like, kills people. Under the guise of seeking employment as the Addams’ new nanny, Debbie, played by Joan Cusack, infiltrates the family’s terrifying Victorian mansion in order to seduce and marry Christopher Lloyd’s Uncle Fester, murder him on their wedding night, and make off with his millions, just like she did to her last three husbands. Unfortunately for Debbie, all of her attempts at murder fail, each one causing Fester to grow ever more fond of her. She might have anticipated that happening had she paid closer attention to the family she’d wormed her way into, where, as the characters demonstrate throughout the film, attempted murder is one of the surest ways for one Addams to show affection for another.

It makes me sad to think about how Debbie could have had it all: an unkillable man she could attempt to murder to her heart’s content, access to an undefined though seemingly unfathomable amount of wealth. If only she could have broken through the trauma cycle she’d been trapped in ever since her parents bought her Malibu Barbie instead of Ballerina Barbie (“That’s not what I wanted! That’s not who I was!”), she might have been able to see that. Instead, her capitalist avarice and neoliberal infatuation with meeting her own individual needs rather than those of the collective won out. In her final attempt at murdering the Addamses, she inadvertently succeeds only at killing herself, leaving behind a pile of electrocuted dust, some fashionable heels, a necklace, and some credit cards—the legacy of a woman for whom having it all wasn’t enough if she couldn’t have it all for herself.

Freelance journalist (GQ, Esquire, Out, elsewhere), here on weekends

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DISCUSSION

Good evening, everyone. I’m here tonight looking for advice. I’ll start with the text that my wife and I got from our daughter last Sunday. Fwiw, she’s in her first year of college and she’s about five hours away from us.

After my response, I thought about it, and I feel like her text didn’t really change anything, just like she said. It really doesn’t seem like a big deal to me, not because who she is isn’t a big deal but because this news isn’t the kind of thing that I struggle with. I think there may be members of our family who might struggle, but my attitude is much more along the lines of, “If you have a problem with my daughter, then we really have nothing to talk about.” I guess I’m here to get answers to two questions: is my way of responding to her and my feelings right now wrongheaded and naive? Also, what do I need to know about or be mindful of in order to be supportive of her as she becomes more comfortable with who she is? I haven’t talked to anyone except my wife because it’s not our story to tell. I’m just trying to make sense of it all, if that makes sense.

Thank you all. I appreciate your perspective.