It’s not an easy job you know. You put something out there in the world and maybe you planned it and maybe you didn’t, but the point is now people are looking to you to be responsible for it and account for what’s wrong with it and you want to stick up for it but you also want it to do well. Maybe the road you put it down wasn’t the yellow brick one but come on, it’s still standing up right and it endures and that’s not what always happens, so you deserve a little recognition once and a while, right? I think that’s fair.
So yeah, good job, makers of Mommie Dearest.
In 1978 Christina Crawford wrote her memoirs, Mommie Dearest, which outlined her apparent abuse and neglect at the hands of her adoptive mother, classic screen actress Joan Crawford. Optioned for a film a couple of years later, one can only imagine the prestige Paramount Pictures thought they would get with a serious drama pulling back the curtain of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Surely Christina, doubted and scorned by the insular Hollywood community, would gain a much larger platform to raise awareness of the abuse she suffered? For the film’s star Faye Dunaway, it was to represent the latest in a series of prestigious roles; after two Academy Award nominations and a win for Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown and Network respectively over the years, now Dunaway would have an eye-catching roll as the very woman who commented in the early 70’s that only Dunaway had what it took to be a true star out of the big actresses of the day. However, to say the least, things didn’t go as everyone planned. Dunaway’s performance was like spilled honey at the picnic table to legions of ants/critics who think being overly descriptive is good writing; an over-flavoured mess that ruins everything. It more or less torpedoed her career as a top-tier actress. Christina did readings of the book with a drag queen dressed as her abusive mother, the on-screen depiction of her mother’s attempt to kill her being found laughable by audiences. Paramount Pictures on the other hand, were marketing the film as a comedy within a month and made a considerable profit, so at least the underdog won out in this situation.
This trailer plays like a greatest hits reel of the film and it isn’t hard to see why the overwrought camp, complete with drinks being thrown into people’s faces, caught on as a cult hit. Audiences bringing their own wire hangers and cleaning supplies to screenings while they sing along with the film’s catchphrases seems like exactly the kind of fate something so silly deserves. It is fairly disconcerting when you think about it though; The Rocky Horror Picture Show is tossed-off bullshit about sex and aliens, Mommie Dearest is about the abuse of a child by a mentally ill woman that is actually supposed to have happened.
It is difficult to take it as seriously as that though, while watching Dunaway wail “NOOOOOO MOOOOOORE WIIIIIIIIRE HAANGERS!!!” her eyes bugged out, caked in make-up, she looks like she should be putting Batman in a Wire Hanger Death Trap. I mean…she was really good in Network you guys, just trust me. Dunaway blamed the inexperienced director for being unable to reel in the performances of the actors and with that kind of blame-avoidance and guilt-tripping, I'm just going to go ahead and assume that the director in question is her son. *coughs*
Thankfully the same minds that brought us cheap theme-day movies New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day haven’t subjected us to the Oedipal nightmare of a Mother’s Day movie (yet), but if you’re looking for a film to watch this Mother’s Day and you’re the kind of person that finds conversation with relatives a little awkward, if nothing else, a viewing of Mommie Dearest should get a conversation going. Even if that conversation is ‘can we watch something else?’ or ‘why are you doing this to me?’ On the other hand, if soap opera hysterics aren’t your jam, there is one alternative for the day that’s in it: