Released in 1981, “Mommie Dearest” is an adaptation from the autobiography of the same name, written by Christina Crawford. The movie depicts the life of Christina living with an abusive mother.
In honor of Mothers Day coming close, I feel I should take a look at this. What I saw was a horror/drama filled feature that comes off as an unintentional, disorganized, and interesting comedy.
Performances were scattered. There was overacting and underacting. The best performance came from Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford. She delivered the best scenes in the movie. To which they can either be funny or terrifying.
The script/dialogue was…something. There can be some alright dialogue, but quite a number of times it was really cheesy and bad. To a point where it was simply so bad its good. Delivering such memorable lines such as:
“No wire hangers, ever!”
“Why are you yelling? Because I’m mad.”
“You’re over overreacting. Well, you are underreacting.”
Now I will say that a movie been funny, terrifying, cheesy, and bad, brings forth my biggest issue. That issue being tone. The tones in the movie were all over the place. The film would show Dunaway being an abusive mother and acting cruelly to her daughter. These scenes, especially the wire hanger scene, got me on edge and it was tough to watch. Then in the next scene or two, it became light-hearted and campy. I was laughing at these campy scenes and for how disjointed this narrative structure was. But sometimes it was awkward laughing simply due to the fact these two opposite tones were clashing toward one another and it shouldn’t be like that. I shouldn’t be laughing at scenes in a movie that had child abuse in it.
The structure and pacing was another issue for me. One doesn’t get enough time to get enveloped into the life of some of these characters, particularly in the children. I completed forgotten that Christopher Crawford was a thing in the movie until he abruptly came in toward the end. I did some reading and found that Joan Crawford adopted five children, including Christina. Now I understand when making a film based on something that actually happened, some liberties need to be taken. But the movie could have very well been about Christina being the only child that Joan adopted. It didn’t need the inclusion of Christopher because it came off as filler. There were other characters that were like this as well. Joan Crawford’s boyfriend at the beginning and her husband toward the end. They came and went. Never to return again.
The movie seemed to focus a lot on Joan Crawford. Which I suppose is not a problem since Dunaway was the best part. But this didn’t work in terms of getting to know her on a personal level or take time to get to know other people in the film. There were a couple of scenes where she does have legit sad moments. But it doesn’t work due to not having enough time to get to know her or any one of the characters. Even with the abuse happening to Christina, I felt sorry for her, but I didn’t know her. The emotional attachment with her was low. There were not enough scenes devoted to her time studying in those two institutions. Especially with the Catholic school, that was entirely pointless.
Pacing in the first half was fine, but once the second half came in it was slow. The moment when Christina was a teenager, I was getting bored. Granted there were some cheesy and laughable moments sprinkled about, though not enough.
The film took a serious autobiography and glossed it over with campiness. I was hoping for something more serious but I what got was still entertaining to a degree. The clashing tones, the disjointed structure/pacing, cheesy dialogue/acting, and Faye Dunaway make the movie an interesting experience to see.