Mommie Dearest

Mommie Dearest


Reviewed by: James Benefield

"You've got everything you wanted in life."

"No, I don't … I want a baby!"

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Faye Dunaway gives it some welly as the unforgettable queen of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood royalty Joan Crawford in this exercise in posthumous myth-making and myth-breaking. Some call it a melodramatic, over-cooked turkey while others hail it as a cult classic. Regardless of your tolerance for high camp and massive hair, you've got to admit it's memorable.

Mommie Dearest sees Crawford eyeing middle age, twice divorced, badly in need of a hit movie and thoroughly broody. After being denied a child through an adoption agency, she acquires a baby through other means and names her Christina. Although given all the material luxury the Hollywood Hills can bestow, Christina grows up in emotional poverty. Joan competes with her child at a young age, berating Christina for play acting, beating the young girl mercilessly and, at one moment, cutting off chunks of her daughter's hair in a bitter frenzy.

Dunaway has since distanced herself from her performance and the movie, something which speaks volumes about the film's po-faced execution and its unintentional results. Dunaway is as caked in make-up (check out those eyebrows) as the film is saturated in colour and cheap-looking lighting. Her scenery-chewing acting eventually swallows the movie, which is just as well, as the unintentionally fractured narrative is falling apart all around her, as episodes of Crawford's life from middle age onwards are plucked almost at random and then tossed aside moments later.

It's a heady, gaudy experience throughout but, if you embrace the film as an unintentional camp, rather than any attempt at biography (or even adaptation of the memoir from Christine Crawford, which it was based on), you may well enjoy it. The script is infinitely quotable, dropping, as it does, clanger after clanger. The abuse that Christina experiences from her mother is unspeakable - as well as scissors, coat hangers and cleaning products all make chilling appearances - but its execution is not grounded in this or any other world, taking it to quasi-operatic levels of coffin-black comic hysteria.

One of the very few examples of a film that's so bad it's good, this is a spectacularly misjudged biopic that is increasingly entertaining and hilarious the more it steps away from reality, taste and coherence. And Faye Dunaway is extraordinary in it, in every way but the way she intended.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2012
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Controversial story of Joan Crawford, based on the memoirs of her adopted daughter.
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Director: Frank Perry

Writer: Christina Crawford, Robert Getchell, Tracy Hotchner, Frank Perry, Frank Yablans

Starring: Faye Dunaway, Mara Hobel, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, Howard da Silva

Year: 1981

Runtime: 129 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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