Saturday, 30 April 2016

Movie Review: Mommie Dearest (1981)


A trashy biographical drama, Mommie Dearest reveals Joan Crawford's home life as a train wreck of abuse and narcissism, with adopted daughter Tina the primary victim. The film has all the quality and thoughtfulness of a sleazy made-for-TV hack job.

It's the late 1930s and MGM star Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) is at her commercial peak. Twice divorced she longs for a child, and her lawyer friend and lover Gregg Savitt (Steve Forrest) helps to arrange for the adoption of a girl (played as a child by Mara Hobel and as a young adult by Diana Scarwid).

Self-centred and egotistical, Joan places herself in the spotlight of her own world, suffers from wild mood swings, has strong hang-ups about cleanliness, and allows her career frustrations and disappointments to spill into her home. She has no understanding of what it takes to be a mother, and unleashes regular torrents of abuse on young Tina. The results are harrowing incidents of physical and emotional attacks which continue even as Tina matures into an adult.

Directed by Frank Perry and based on the tell-all book by Christina Crawford, Mommie Dearest looks, sounds and just feels cheap. For all the attempts to portray Hollywood glitz and glamour, the production just reeks of cheap television values. The script (co-written by Perry, producer Frank Yablans and others) consists of nothing but trite stock lines of dialogue that never come close to sounding real, and the film, painfully overlong at over two hours, just kills time between the episodes of abuse.

There are no meaningful attempts to try and find the people behind the facades, or the causes of Joan Crawford's clearly distressed behaviour. Her faults according to her daughter are just thrown upon the screen as a child would see them, and that is all the film has to offer. As an exercise in sordid shock tactics the film wallows in the gutter, and it's not even a serious contender as a human drama.

The one success story is the makeup and hairdressing talent to transform Faye Dunaway into Joan Crawford. But then her acting takes over and Dunaway is all wide-eyed hysteria, lurching from personal meltdowns to professional eruptions. The supporting cast barely qualifies as talented enough for daytime television, but then the material does not require the likes of Steve Forrest and Howard Da Silva (as Louis B. Mayer) to do much other than be obvious about all the bad acting. Diana Scarwid appears in the second half as the gown-up Tina and at least adds a measure of restraint.

Mommie Dearest is filmmaking at the level of a breathless gossip column: squalid and vulgar.






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