Mommie Dearest (1981)
Reviewed on 2008 August 28
Whether you agree with Christina Crawford or not, this is a campfest that might be fun to pop in the DVD player early some Oscar® night, before the ceremonies get started.
Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) is… Joan Crawford. The movie is based (however loosely) on the eponymous book by her daughter Christina, and it shows her version of her relationship with her famous mother. The book is upsetting. The movie just made me giggle.
Joan was Hollywood royalty in the ’30s and ’40s, and she felt like adopting children to raise in her amazing home would completely fulfill her. She felt her stardom would guarantee her a baby from an agency, but we see that this is something that doesn’t come easily for her. The circumstances look a little shaky, but she ultimately gets a daughter: Christina.
Christina (Mara Hobel as little Tina, and Diana Scarwid as an adult) loves her mother but Joan seems more interested in having a perfect little prop or accessory at her side than being a parent. What could have been a tight drama or a sober look at the dark side of Hollywood turns into something that some theaters screen for audience participation; e.g., The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Every line is overly melodramatic, every clash of wills is a battle royal, and sometimes Joan just looks like she’s trying to bend a spoon by staring at it.
It sounds like an oxymoron but here we have a good bad movie. Is it fine drama? No way, but when the script calls for her to lose it, you do get to see Faye Dunaway freaking out. As someone else noted, the night time fits where she’s wearing face cream have her foaming at the mouth in what looks like kabuki makeup. The costuming is amazing, and Dunaway did look like Joan Crawford, complete with Magic Marker eyebrows and hair pulled back so tightly in some bits she could blink her eustachian tubes. I am impressed that Crawford and Mara Hobel could do the wire hangers bit with a straight face. Also, maybe I’m a ghoul, or maybe the TV needed adjusting, but the make-up on Dunaway’s face for the funeral scene made me wonder for one crazy moment if she’d come back howling from the dead.
Two chocolate morsels. Would make an interesting double feature with Sunset Boulevard.