Mommie Dearest : The Film - The Book
I am afraid to say that film star, Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway), is a very troubled person.
You see, during the slightly more mature years of her life, Joan yearns for a child of her own, and instructs her male-companion / Hollywood Lawyer, Gregg Savitt (Steve Forrest), to obtain for her the permission to adopt a small child, whom she calls Christina (Mara Hobel).
And do you know what? Joan loves her time with Christina so much, that a few years later, she adopts another child too, called Christopher (Jeremy Scott Reinbolt).
OK, when I say 'love', on a surface level everything appears to be all flowers and roses in the Crawford household . But underneath it all, it is very strained affair to say the least.
For example, Joan gives most of Christina’s birthday gifts away to charity. Joan repetitively challenges Christina to push herself harder in her wares. Joan punishes Christina by locking her in a closet when she rebels against her. And Joan manically hacks off Christina’s hair when she catches her daughter play-acting in the mirror.
Ouch! Joan's a right nutter, isn't she? Which is most probably why Greg leaves her. The studio decide to not renew her film contract. And Christina is sent off to boarding school after a very brash fight indeed.
Though maybe Joan will calm down when Christina (Diana Scarwid) is a teenager, huh? As it is possible that during this more mature time of life, things can get a little better. Right?
Joan interferes with Christina's high school acting lessons, forcing her to leave boarding school. And then, when they both have another argument together, Christina is sent to a convent school not so long after, whom try instill a more harder edge into this poor-poor girl in turn.
However, as yet more time passes, things start to look up for 'the Crawford's' for a change. Joan marries Alfred Steele, the CEO of Pepsi Cola. Whilst Christina manages to get a job in a day-time soap opera.
Wow! That's a turn up for the books. But do you think they can stay on this positive vibe for very long?
Hmmm. Not saying. Except that what next transpires begins with a death in the family. As Coke comes a crashing - soaps come a calling - a mothers tries to get the final word - and a daughter's voice is finally heard.
OK, so who is the scariest person in the movies? Hannibal Lecter? Nah! Jason from Friday the 13th? Don’t make me laugh! Barry Manilow? Possibly! What about Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford in 'Mommie Dearest'? AHHHHH! I WANT MY MUMMY!
Well, with my hand on my heart, Faye gives one of the most emotionally charged performances ever seen on screen, scaring the viewer (and me) sh**less with her manic, debonair, and bi-polar portrayal of this one time screen legend.
Though Faye isn't the only actress whom supercharges the screen you know. Oh no. Mara Hobel (young Christina) really gives an honest depiction of a little girl lost, and not in the usual ‘young kid who tries to act’ type of a way at all. Diana Scarwid (older Christina) does a brilliant job too, not overacting or hamming it up, just being in the moment and becoming the vessel which exhumes compassion. And on top of that, Rutanys Alda plays the obedient house maid to a tea, almost becoming 'one with the furniture' as 'personal aides' did during those days.
Honestly, from the very start of this flick, you know that this is not going to be one of your usual run of the mill bio-pic's. You see, unlike most of these types of formulaic driven melodramas, this one really bites back, and does it with a vengeance, CHOMP!
Granted, on the reverse side of this argument, here and there this movie does suffer from the usual abrupt time shift displacements which most true life dramatization suffer from. But I have to admit, that this 'plot glitch' is kept to a bare minimum at the beginning of the film, and just grows more fractured as the movie progresses.
For example, one scene near the end of 'Mommie Dearest' , depicts Joan acting in her daughters soap opera. The next scene depicts Christina accepting an award due to her mother’s ill health. And the scene after that, Joan is dead.
Please note, this doesn't make the film c**p all in all. It just has a more fractured and broken narrative overall. Just Like these filmic facts: (1) According to Rutanya Alda, the real Christina Crawford does have wire hangers in her closet. (2) Anne Bancroft was originally going to play Joan in this picture, but pulled out just after the screenplay was finished. Also, Franco Zeffirelli was approached to direct the film as well, but Christina did not like his vision of her mother. (3) When Joan Crawford was alive she stated in the media that Faye Dunaway had enough talent and guts to be a star. (4) Their was a cut scene in this film where a young Christina ran away from from home. Barbra Steisand was somehow associated in this segment as well. Also, another cut scene, was one that was central to the core of establishing Joan's character, entailing young Christina and Joan talking around a campfire. (5) Frank Sinatra aided Faye with her horse-voice after the 'wire coat-hanger' scene. (6) This film had a very bad reception when it was first released. It won five 'Razzies'. It was slated in the press. Plus the audience went to watch it armed with wire coat-hangers and Ajax. (7) The Christina Crawford book that this film was based on, was one of the biggest-selling memoirs in the history of American publishing. The second book she wrote about her life, however, was not as successful. (8) Due to it's bad reception, Faye Dunaway refuses to talk about this film. And (9) The set of the soap opera was the actual set of the sit-com 'Happy Days'.
Overall 'Mommie Dearest' is a must see film for all fans of yesteryear. The story is fractured yet expansive. The acting is mannered yet dramatic. And the production is well crafted yet simple. Agreed obligatory documentary clip?
THE RATING: A-