Mommie Dearest (1981)


Mommie Dearest (1981)There’s an image of Faye Dunaway the morning after she won her Best Actress Oscar for Network (1976) sitting on a white chair behind a swimming pool. Already having a decent career behind her, from the mid-late sixties through to the radical questioning seventies. I wonder how she views that photo today, a career that was indeed on the up, crystallised by that achievement, recognition by her peers. Turning later to Mommie Dearest (1981) based on the autobiography of Joan Crawford‘s daughter Christina Crawfordwhich was seen as an image changing book on the classic Hollywood actress who was already known for her career and other exploits. Making the public aware of her private life beyond that of Hedda Hopper’s gossip column.

The film version of the book was originally turned down by Anne Bancroft who could have easily carried off the title role. Which allowed Dunaway to take on the role, which she also fitted psychically more so, admired by Crawford herself. It’s sad to see not so much a portrayal of the star of the Hollywood’s golden era but a caricature, of course looking at Crawford you can see where you can go with her iconic looks which can be exaggerated. Dunaway takes it to new lows, lows which caused her career to take a nose dive into the realm of mostly made for TV movies.

Even the look of the film with all it’s production values wouldn’t look out of place on the True Movies channel. It’s shocking in terms of acting which doesn’t care much for the facts that are in the book, which even Crawford’s daughter stated, disowning the film. Taking what it wants and sensationalising certain aspects of the adoptive child’s life with Crawford. I find the central performance laughable at times, not just verging but basking in camp, it was as if Dunaway was channeling the late actress and pumping up the volume to the max to leave no respect for a woman with all her pressure in life was just an exploding bomb that could go off at anytime.

From the obsessive compulsive disorder which is treated more like a joke, which by todays standards is taken more seriously. The child abuse as it is depicted as extreme as it is at times could still be seen as just harsh parenting. I’m not condoning the physical beatings with the iconic wire hangers, looking more at the rare steak, which was just taken too far by Crawford. 

I felt the film could have focused not just on Christina’s (Diana Scarwid) perspective but also her brother Christopher (Xander Berkeley) who we only see briefly alongside his sister. Of course taken from her book it may have given more perspective and fairness to the depiction. One that will forever be held against both actresses in a light that tarnishes them. Even to draw from other sources to give more balance, instead we have a monster of a mother who demanded everything. It does however touch on a number of moments in Crawford’s career which is nice to see depicted for the screen, redeeming the film to a point where it’s watchable.

Am I glad I sat down to this oddity of a film that was originally advertised as a drama of a biopic, turning out to be a A budget b-movie that could have been so much better. There’s a lot of if’s and but’s which could be addressed here. However it has added to the fabric of popular culture, if to see a mad woman scream about wire coat-hangers and hack a rose garden to shreds. Its camp value is greater than it’s value compared to other film star biopics which do depict the lives of our favourite stars highs and lows, the lows here are more exciting than the highs, shouldn’t it be the other way around. If anything this film has made it more tempting to read the source material to fill in the gaps of what really happened, where fact became pure unadulterated fiction and silliness.

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2 responses

  1. It’s a weird one, that’s true. She looked very much the part, but the script was dreadful. I read the book and preferred that, though, I heard years later the daughter regretted writing the book and painted her Crawford too harshly.

    September 16, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    • Definitely so Cindy, I think she wrote the book out of revenge. From what I have read in other books she seems to be venting so soon after her mothers death. The end if the film seems to direct you to the book and it’s not even cleverly done either.

      September 17, 2014 at 8:38 am

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