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Cinematic Hell: Mommie Dearest (1981)

Updated on July 19, 2016
Theatrical poster for Mommie Dearest. Property of Paramount Pictures.
Theatrical poster for Mommie Dearest. Property of Paramount Pictures. | Source

Ok seriously, I need at least a so bad-it's good movie after the catastrophe that was "Catwoman". I mean come on, my bosses should have some type of mercy on me after all that pain right? Anyway let's just see what's on the "Cinematic Hell repentance file" today.

Um.... ok? Not exactly what I was expecting but I'll take on Mommie Dearest.

Mommie Dearest was originally a memoir written by the daughter of famous actress Joan Crawford, Christina Crawford. There was a lot of controversy surrounding this book because of Christina's claims of her mother being an alcoholic and being an abusive mother. There are some that believe her, some people say she exaggerated her childhood life and of course there are people who claim Christina is a big liar. Either way, the book was a huge hit and Paramount producer Frank Yablans thought this memoir would make an excellent biopic depicting the "real" Joan Crawford. What came along in 1981 was a film so inept that people would end up laughing at a so-called "serious drama". But does Mommie Dearest belong on the same shelf as "Showgirls", "The Room" and "From Justin to Kelly"? Let's find out.

Surprisingly, this movie is not seen from the point of view of Christina Crawford, but instead the real lead is Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway). She see's her life as one huge movie set where she is the star and everyone around her (including her adopted children) are nothing but supporting cast. She yells, she drinks, she throws things, she yells some more and maybe we'll see her act or something. I'll be honest, this movie is hard to describe even when writing down the plot synopsis. On a technical level, Mommie Dearest is not well made. In any other biopic, we would see dates on the bottom of the screen to see how much time has passed between sequences. But strangely enough, Mommie Dearest doesn't have any of that. There are a lot of jarring time jumps and we often go from one scene t another with no real transition. So to put it simply, this movie has no sense of flow.

One big mistake Mommie Dearest makes is it's emotionally misplaced and at times this movie really fucks with our heads. Throughout the film, Joan is portrayed to be a drunken, abusive mother from hell. Even though this movie is remembered as a campy and funny film, it's hard for me to watch some of these scenes. We see Joan treat Christina so terribly and so badly that we do end up feeling sorry for little Christina (Mara Hobel) and even at times Christina as an adult (Diana Scarwid). But at other times, this movie really wants the audience to feel sorry for Joan because either one of boyfriends broke up with her, she didn't get a movie part or being fired from a movie studio. I know what this movie is trying to do, it's trying to portray Joan Crawford as a tortured soul kind of like with Marilyn Monroe. But the awkward writing and clumsy scene transitions just can't do this portrayal any justice.

Another big problem this movie has is the acting department. Yes Faye Dunaway looks exactly like the real Joan Crawford so much they can pass for twins. But really this is not a good performance guys. Honestly, I have no idea if this Dunaway's fault or the writing's fault but the Joan Crawford of "Mommie Dearest" doesn't even close to resembling a human being. She's a cartoon monster, a dragon-human hybrid you would see in a Disney movie. It's hard to have any real sympathy for someone who clearly isn't human. Honestly, I do think this movie would be better if we really saw what Christina Crawford was going through during this time period but the movie is more interested in Joan's crazy obsession with herself and wire hangers. We never really see the effects this has on Christina or her brother Christopher (in fact he disappears for more than half the movie with no explanation). It also doesn't help that Diana Scarwid's soul was missing during this film's production because wow... her performance is so wooden you start to wonder if she and Keanu Reeves are related.

The question still remains though, is "Mommie Dearest" a so bad-it's good movie? Well... yes and no. Of course there are a lot of laugh out loud scenes littered throughout this picture. A personal favorite of mine is actually the big argument Joan has with Greg Savitt (Steve Forrest). It's clear both actors have no idea what the hell their characters are suppose to be feeling or what the hell their characters are even arguing about. This classic case of misdirection from Frank Perry is fucking hilarious. The scene where Joan destroys the rose garden is a laugh riot too. You have not known unintentional comedy until you've heard Joan yell to little Christina "Tina, BRING ME THE AXE"! And yes, the wire hanger scene along with the flying Ajax scene are kind of funny too (Notice how I said "kind of funny"). There is something interesting about both those scenes but at the same time it's hard for me to laugh at a child in pain. It's really hard for me to find this movie hilarious all the way through because I do remember this entire movie is suppose to portray a child suffering because her mother was abusive and an alcoholic. True, we won't ever really know what happened between the real Joan and the real Christina. Even so, this movie is just a mess.

All in all, even though I do get some enjoyment out of Faye Dunaway's lack of direction and the stupid dialogue, it's hard for me to really recommend "Mommie Dearest" even as a so bad-it's good film. I mean if you're like me and you can stomach the painful scenes then sure Mommie Dearest can be fun. However, it's still not as fun as "The Room" or any movie made by Ed Wood. This movie can be a very long and painful experience. I mean I'm not saying it's offensive (I have seen worse after all) it's just kind of sad in a lot of respects. Score: 2/10.


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      Lalabyeissa 20 months ago

      Great review.