“ Genre: Documentary / Theatrical Release: 1981 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Frank Perry / Actors: Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, Howard Da Silva, Mara Hobel ... / DVD released 2004-03-01 at Paramount Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: PAL „
RELEASED: 1981, Cert. 15
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 128 mins
DIRECTOR/PRODUCER: Frank Perry
SCREENPLAY: Robert Getchell, Tracy Hotchner, Frank Perry & Frank Yablans
MUSIC: Henry Mancini
Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford
Mara Hobel as Christina Crawford when a child
Diana Scarwid as Christina Crawford when an adult
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Based on Christina Crawford's book of the same name, Mommie Dearest delves into her life as the adopted daughter of Hollywood screen icon, Joan Crawford.
Mommie Dearest begins with Joan Crawford's acting career entering a bit of a lull. She decides she desperately wants a baby, but such is impossible for her, having had a total of seven miscarriages in the past. She persuades her lawyer boyfriend to assist, and he manages to swing it so that she adopts a little baby girl, calling her Christina.
Initially, Joan revels in motherhood, later also adopting a baby boy, but it isn't long before the neurotic and obsessive aspects of her personality spew forth, which results in Christina suffering a very traumatic upbringing.
I must confess to never having read Christina Crawford's memoirs, and although I have heard a buzz that she far over-exaggerated Joan's hideous efforts at raising a child, I am unable to make any accurate judgments of my own.
As far as the film is concerned, I have over the years read quite a lot of reviews and articles which slam Mommie Dearest down hard, with various people wishing it had been stamped out and into oblivion on the cutting room floor, yet it still managed to receive several awards.
I first saw Mommie Dearest at some point during the 1980s, and recently decided to give it another viewing to see if my feelings about it had changed over the years. I can answer that now with a simple "no".
There are some aspects of Mommie Dearest which make it quite a good film to watch. I'm not sure if entertaining would be an appropriate word to use, but it certainly is interesting, regardless of how close to the truth it is or otherwise.
Taken as a whole, Mommie Dearest is rather a sleek production.....certainly not boring and, if the story is to be believed, very eye-opening. I have no idea if friends and acquaintances of Joan Crawford ever came out of the woodwork in her defense, because in this film she is presented as being a not very nice lady. It is well known that Bette Davis, who worked with Crawford on a couple of occasions, had little or no time for her adversary and rightly or wrongly, having seen both women interviewed separately on different occasions, Davis always came across to me as far more normal and level-headed than Crawford ever did...so, bearing that in mind, I am tempted to believe that at least some of Christina Crawford's revelations possibly hold more than a grain of truth.
Although it is very watchable, Mommie Dearest is rather bitty in that it jumps from scene to scene in Joan and Christina's life. It isn't difficult to understand, but there seems to be no proper follow-through.
As far as the acting is concerned, Faye Dunaway does a grand job of portraying the mixed-up, spoiled, possibly alcoholic Joan Crawford whose on-screen presence was so sweet and gentle, yet off-screen was capable of being the harridan from hell. Two actresses played the parts of Christina Crawford, namely Maria Hobel who gave quite an acceptable performance through Christina's childhood - but, I found Diana Scarwid, who played the adult Christina, left a lot to be desired, coming across as wooden almost to the point where she seemed disinterested and unable to immerse herself into the role she was acting. I also found one aspect of the storyline a little odd, in that bearing in mind the gross way she was treated by her mother, would the adult Christina Crawford have possessed the confidence levels she shows in the film? I think to fully understand what I'm driving at, the film needs to be watched first-hand.
The musical score is pretty typical of and what one would expect from Henry Mancini, it being light orchestral and fairly pleasant, but through sizeable chunks of the film, I hardly noticed it.
It is difficult for me to explain in finer detail because of not wanting to stray into spoiler territory, but there is something about the whole story of Joan's and Christina Crawford's mother and adopted daughter relationship with one another that doesn't really add up or hang right for me. Do you ever hear or read about a crime on the news or in the newspaper and some inner niggle tells you that there's something not quite right about what you are being told? That's how I feel about Mommie Dearest. I'm by no means suggesting that when Christina wrote her memoirs she was lying about her life with Joan, but I still feel a little wary about certain aspects of how her story evolved in the way that it did and I'm left with a few loose ends, together with some questions as to the finer points of the what she - Christina - progressed into as she moved into adulthood.
I do suspect that some of the more emotive scenes in Mommie Dearest were over-sensationalised, particularly Joan's behaviour whilst going through one of her many tantrums when the world around her didn't conform to her unrealistic demands. I accept she may well have made those demands and reacted negatively when they weren't met, but feel that the levels of hysteria put across in this film are somewhat over-played.
Although Mommie Dearest is a very watchable film, for me it does have significant levels of irritation present which could go some way towards preventing me from wanting to see it again. I now am of the opinion that as far as this film is concerned, once is definitely enough.
At the time of writing, Mommie Dearest can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £3.13 to £30.73
Used: from £2.23 to £8.98
Collectible: Only one copy currently available @ £19.99
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Infamous for its unforgettable "No Wire Hangers EVER" scene, earning Faye Dunaway a Razzie Award for Worst Actress instead of an Oscar she was so sure to win, "Mommie Dearest" is the film that marked the beginning of Dunaway's decline in the industry. Dunaway refuses to talk about this film and has been known to stop interviews if the interviewer dares to even mention this in the slightest (apparently she has a long list of talking points that are simply off-limits, including any questions about her son, her relationship with Roman Polanski on the set of "Chinatown," her highly publicised lawsuit against Andrew Lloyd Webber etc)
But Ms. Dunaway need not be embarrassed at all, for her performance, although unjustly and harshly criticised even to this day, is an astonishing one. She plays Joan Crawford, the legendary screen icon who enjoyed many successes throughout her career, including an Oscar for "Mildred Pierce" (a must-see dramatic noir) as well as being hailed as "Queen of the Movies" in the 30's but has also experienced struggle, through many divorces, her termination of contract with MGM, and being branded as "Box Office Poison." The film explores her professional and personal lives in detail, the good, the bad and the ugly, including her chaotic relationship with her adopted daughter, Christina.
The claims made in the best-selling book by Christina Crawford on which this film is based, that Joan, on top of being a legendary screen actress, was an alcoholic and abusive mother are questionable at best. Although strongly supported by Bette Davis, an actress known for her eternal hate towards Crawford, several of Crawford's close friends came to her defense. But the film never tries to make judgment nor take sides. It follows the book step by step, going through each of the written events one by one.
Perhaps that is where the film meets its biggest flaw. The film is shown entirely in such episodic formats that it never feels complete as a whole film. There are absurdly fast scene changes, characters' emotions change within seconds and they age with seemingly forgetting everything that happened in the past. Joan's fury can suddenly subside, Christina manages to pick up a Southern accent when she grows into adolescence, and characters come and go hectically. Maybe the book contained too much content for the film to handle and the film is not able to add credible consistency.
Dunaway has an uncanny resemblance to the star she's portraying and her powerful, energetic performance is a magnetic one. Squeezing in as much information about Joan Crawford as possible, starting with her tiresome obsession for cleanliness and perfectionism, her various relationships with different men, her decline in fame, the adoption, alcoholism and financial difficulties, Dunaway is given a lot to work with, but the wide range of emotions she can display on screen is extraordinary, conquering every scene with her presence. So why did she receive a Razzie for her performance? It's safe to say the Golden Raspberry Awards is possibly more biased and unreliable than the Academy Awards or the Golden Globe Awards. They don't necessarily reward the worst performance, but just famous actors and actresses who happened to star in a trashy movie. Another most obvious example of this injustice is Sandra Bullock being awarded the same award for the recent "All About Steve."
When Dunaway is over the top and dramatic, it works: she's scary and unforgettable. But when someone else tries to reach that level, the film can fall apart spectacularly. Diana Scarwid, playing the grown-up Christina, not only adds an odd, out of place accent, but fails to show any sort of acting in the slightest. Mara Hobel, playing the younger Christina, is better noticeably and has some strong moments, but compared to the powerhouse acting that comes from Dunaway, the rest of the cast severely lets her down.
The cast in general also suffers from the screenplay that very often includes cheesy and unintentionally hilarious lines. The messy script therefore breaks up the dramatic scenery whenever there is one and it's no wonder this film has since become a campy cult classic. When the actors are all over the place looking serious, the director never seems to bring out the best in them. Several shots contribute to bringing out the hidden comedy and fail to capture the seriousness of the film. So again, the problem here is not Dunaway, but the sub-par writing and directing.
"Mommie Dearest" is a film full of ideas, events and ultimately a fantastic leading actress. But the rest of the elements, (the directing, writing, editing, supporting cast) never add up to give a wholly satisfactory film. Faye Dunaway deserves so much better than this.