Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mommie Dearest

By s. Saturday, January 28, 2012 , , , , , ,
65/100 (129 min, 1981)
Plot: Mommie Dearest, best selling memoir, turned motion picture, depicts the abusive and traumatic adoptive upbringing of Christina Crawford at the hands of her mother...screen queen Joan Crawford.
Director: Frank Perry
Writers: Christina Crawford (book), Robert Getchell
Stars: Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid and Steve Forrest

A star...a legend...and a mother. The illusion of perfection.

Joan Crawford. One of the greatest movie stars of the cinema, Academy Award winner, a true actress. MGM screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas recalled, "No one decided to make Joan Crawford a star. Joan Crawford became a star because Joan Crawford decided to become a star." Crawford was known from her temperament and diva behaviour. After her death her adopted daughter Christina decided to write a memoir in which she accused Crawford of life-long abuse. She titled the book "Mommie Dearest".

The movie was made in 1981 and starred Faye Dunaway in titular role. The movie opened to massive critical backlash and was the first movie in history to sweep the Razzies. Dunaway took the failure especially hard - she was truly convinced she will receive Academy Award for her performance. To this day she refuses to talk about this movie and when interviewers start to ask her questions about the subject she is known to stop the interviews. She was infuriated when after the release of the movie the studio changed the marketing campaign - instead of promoting it as a serious drama, they started advertising it as a camp movie.
The movie is noted for being the highest rated imdb film to have receive so many Razzies. Although it goes off rails frequently and Dunaway has been given too much freedom without director interfering and telling her what she should do, what she should focus on it had good moments and all in all it's an entertaining movie.

However, due to the lack of skill to carry a vision or a vision altogether some of the scenes are comical in their absurdity - even if this is what happened in reality it is filmmaker's job to make those scenes dramatic enough to cause viewers to be disturbed, not amused. Instead certain scenes play almost like a comedy - especially the one in the rose garden where Crawford, having been let go by the studio, frantically cuts rose bushes. Her small children are present there, looking horrified, but instead of feeling bad we keep laughing, because of everything being so grotesque. Too grotesque. For example - "La vie en Rose" while being horribly messy movie has brilliant individual scene. There is this moment where Edith Piaf finds out her beloved is dead. Marion Cotillard screams, cries, falls into hysterics. But it's never amusing, it is heartbreaking. Nobody on the set of "Mommie Dearest" had the skill to turn tragic scenes into something that will translate into tragic emotions in viewers 'hearts.
Having said that, the production values are lovely and the story flaws effortlessly - despite Crawford being married four times, we never  lose track of how her situation looks at any moment, both in her personal and private life. The film does good job at showing her obsessions - rigoristic, painful activities she puts herself though in order to preserve her beauty and the obsessive cleaning she often engages into.

Dunaway looks amazing - almost like a real Crawford, except for few scenes near the end of the movie were her eyebrows looks so fake it actually manages to take your mind out of the story. She has some fantastic moments in the movie - especially the chilling scenes where Crawford tells Christina to finish her dinner or brilliant sequence featuring birthday party for Tina, when Joan realizes that her child is stealing the focus away from her. If the director was more skilled and perhaps less intimidated by Dunaway, he would have been able to guide her and tone her acting down when it needed too. In the effect it wouldn't ruin her performance which at times had true shot at achieving brilliance.

The relationship between Joan and her daughter is very well portrayed when Christina is a little girl, but when she grows up her attitude towards her mother is puzzling. That girl was - in her own mind - abused by her mother yet she still continues to see her? She still continues to call her "Mommie Dearest"? It makes no sense.
Of course there could be reasons for it - Tina was adopted and maybe in some way she convinced herself her mother is the only one who gave her a chance. But it's never touched upon in the movie. We see little girl hating her mother and then young woman, who still suffers from the relationship with controlling Crawford yet still shows such strong signs of affection.

But the ending is so strange it actually renders the character of Tina completely bizarre and turns her into the unreliable narrator of her whole "my mother abused me" story. It looks like the sole reason for her writing the revenge book was the fact Crawford didn't leave her anything in her will. Greed, if you like. So she quickly becomes this vengeful little person and writes this book. I'm not saying that Crawford was fit to being a mother, she was clearly having deep psychological problems. But I have serious doubts whether most of the story in the movie actually played out like that in the reality.
Some people say that Crawford was bipolar - but that's the problem - we see her being manic, we don't see her depressive. Unless scriptwriter's idea of being depressive is being passed out drunk. There are some scenes in the movie that mirror Mildred Pierce character and her daughter Veda relationship - Mildred Pierce was the role that brought Crawford her Oscar. It was clever and nice little touch but again - the scenes play too comical.

Nonetheless, the film has gorgeous cinematography, many times Dunaway is wonderful and the whole thing is very engaging.And it's not boring - it pulls you in, there is always something going on on screen and you never know what Crawford may do next. Plus it was fun to see Dunaway like that after just seeing her in her beautifully subtle performances in "Chinatown" and "Network".


  1. I do like this film. It's over-the-top but goddamn it, it's so much fun to watch. WHAT IS THIS? NO WIRE HANGERS EVER!!!!!!


    I think Faye Dunaway did a fucking great job in that movie. It's her Scarface.

  2. I find this a joy to watch, it's so ridiculously over the top.