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  Mommie Dearest The Biggest Mother Of Them All
Year: 1981
Director: Frank Perry
Stars: Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, Howard Da Silva, Mara Hobel, Rutanya Alda, Harry Goz, Michael Edwards, Jocelyn Brando, Priscilla Pointer, Joe Abdullah, Gary Allen, Selma Archerd, Adrian Aron, Xander Berkeley
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 3 votes)
Review: Back in the early nineteen-forties, Hollywood star Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) seemed to have everything: a successful career, countless adoring fans, and a healthy bank balance. But, as she confesses to her boyfriend Greg Savitt (Steve Forrest), there is one thing she wants, and donating to orphanages isn't satisfying her anymore, no, what she wants is a child of her own. Greg is sceptical, yet Joan argues that she has never been able to carry a baby and adopting one will make all the difference in the world. However, as a divorcée who has a busy workload, she is turned down by the agency - not that this will put her off...

That's right, what Joan Crawford wants, she gets in this notorious biopic based on a book written, according to this film anyway, as a form of revenge by her adopted daughter Christina. There could well have been a motive of score settling about Mommie Dearest, but the movie backfired spectacularly on those who made it when on its release it was greeted not with gasps of shock at the abusive nature of a beloved star, but gales of laughter at what on the screen came across as hysterical camp. Soon Joan had a new legion of fans who relished this image as a "mean mother", and the film went down in bad movie history.

Alas, it didn't do much for Dunaway's career, as while she was patently acting her socks off to make this barrage of emotional turmoil convincing, all audiences could see was demented scenery-chewing from a star who had previously been considered a class act. The makeup she wears is very well crafted, which only goes to leave the impression we're not watching a recreation of real life, but the actual Joan Crawford playing the role of an unbalanced movie star in a Hollywood melodrama. It's difficult to know how this could have been avoided, as after all with famous performers their image is indelibly stamped on the works they produce, but it didn't need to have been embraced with quite so much gusto as it is here.

Therefore the comedic elements are utterly uninentional, yet far too obvious to anyone watching this from a distance somewhere outside the orbit of the filmmakers. The fact that Mommie Dearest (even that title sounds ripe for parody) is played with such a straight face, frequent grimaces of anger apart, merely enhances the laughter, and has the opposite effect that Christina wanted as it makes her mother a heroine. A pattern emerges where Joan will suffer a setback and tear up, as when she is sacked from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for being "box office poison", a tenderly presented scene which is then followed by a hilarious sequence where Joan reacts by chopping down the tree in her back garden.

But putting it like that makes it sound as if Joan calmly fells the tree, she does not, she yells and screams and growls "Bring me the axe!" to Christina (Mara Hobel) and destroys rose bushes, all with a crazed fire in her eyes, which does not instil fear in the viewer, but has you falling about laughing instead. The film's most famous part has Joan waking Christina one night by bellowing "NO WIRE HANGERS!" after she discovers the offending clothes hanger in the little girl's wardrobe, thus giving her all the excuse she needs to start flinging dresses about and ordering her daughter to scrub the bathroom floor clean. The way she is here, Joan obviously had some control issues, as the pop psychology goes into effect and we have to judge her actions on her lack of a fulfilling grip on her career reflected in her home life, but Christina's portrayal is not one of a sweet victim, but a spoiled brat out to ruin Joan's fun, as just about everyone else is in this film. With Mommie Dearest, if you didn't laugh you'd cry. Music by Henry Mancini.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Frank Perry  (1930 - 1995)

American director who worked closely with his wife Eleanor Perry to create some curious work throughout the sixties: David and Lisa, Ladybug Ladybug, The Swimmer, Last Summer and Diary of a Mad Housewife.

After they divorced in 1970, Frank Perry's work became less interesting, although Doc, Play It As It Lays and Rancho Deluxe all have their fans. Mommie Dearest, his silly Joan Crawford biopic, has fans for other reasons. He was singer Katy Perry's uncle.

 
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