Cast & Crew info:
Christina Crawford (adult)
Howard Da Silva
Louis B. Mayer
Christina Crawford (child)
Produced by David
Koontz, Neil A. Machlis, Terence O'Neill and Frank Yablans;
Directed by Frank Perry; Screenwritten by Robert
Getchell, Tracy Hotchner, Frank Perry and Frank Yablins; based
on the novel by Christina Crawford
Drama (US); Rated
PG for () ; Running Time - 129 Minutes
Domestic Release Dates:
September 18, 1981
| Written by DAVID KEYES
Dearest" is a book by a woman whose motives seem questionable.
During the closing moments of the film adaptation, which
examines the life of Joan Crawford through the eyes of her
adoptive daughter Christina, the narrator shakes her head
in disbelief when her mother's last will in testament reveals
no inheritance for either her or her younger brother. "Mommie
always gets the last word," he explains, to which Christina
answers with a certain determination in her voice, "does
she?" Having not read the book itself, immediate instinct
is write off this closing reaction as a plot device simply
meant to tie the picture to its source material. But if
it is more than that? What if that moment reflects Christina's
entire reasoning behind the initial purpose of the novel?
Certainly, under that kind of scenario, it is aptly possible
that any truth told about Ms. Crawford and her malicious
behavior is anything but the whole truth.
the answer is, chances are no one will find it in the cinematic
translation. In fact, "Mommie Dearest" may very
well be one of the most loathsome and sloppy screen treatments
to ever have been derived from a literary memoir. The movie
is a bizarre and fragmented collection of scenes showcasing
little but mass hysteria, as the audience watches one of
Hollywood's biggest and brightest stars descend ever-so-deeply
into a realm seeped in self-indulgence and radically destructive
reaction. It's an amateurish and distorted argument, in
which Crawford herself emerges not as a human being, but
the typical one-dimensional movie villain. This doesn't
mean any of us is in a place to judge the authenticity of
the facts presented in either of the book or the picture,
but if there really was a specific point that Christina
Crawford was trying to emphasize, it gets severely lost
here and never finds its way back.
even the most casual observer will confess, can rob the
human soul of its most precious and fundamental emotions,
alienating the host beyond the lines of deterioration. Consider
Joan's own self-victimization when the industry she loves
so dearly betrays herin an early scene, she prepares
for an "important" meeting with Louie B. Mayer,
only to be asked to leave MGM because of a string of flop
films. She's upset, naturally, but brushes off the decision...
until she returns to a quiet house and goes outside to viscously
destroy her rose garden with a pair of trimming shears.
Frustration, of course, albeit rather severe. But just what
kind of explanation can justify her turning those outward
attacks directly onto her innocent kids? The movie, alas,
has no definite answer to this question because it is too
absorbed by rage to even care. Child abuse and alcoholism
don't exist in "Mommie Dearest" as genuine social
issues, but as morbid plot gimmicks.
title role is filled by Faye Dunaway, who physically embodies
the look of Joan Crawford almost too eerily for words (the
heavily outlined eyebrows being the primary case in point).
Though her portrayal, we at first get the sense that Joan
was merely an overachieving perfectionist, who applied herself
in every way possible to compensate for the lack of love
in her life. Steve Forrest (Greg Savitt) happily solves
that problem by granting her the one thing she has longed
for all her lifethe chance to adopt a needy child.
Christina, her name is, and in the first few scenes, we
see a solid mother/daughter relationship blossoming beautifully
before it quickly and coldly begins to disintegrate under
the weight of Joan's professional life. Patience is destroyed
and short fuses are lit, and soon it is all a contest to
see who can last longerthe mother with her manic-like
tantrums, or the daughter who doesn't always cower down
in fear when she should.
is mercilessly over-the-top in her portrayal of the famous
screen starlet, but there is at least a certain luster to
the performance that prevents it from falling behind the
lines of plausibility. Yes, even when she's tossing around
little Christina's clothes and wildly ranting about wire
hangers, she remains convincing; her delivery embraces the
shrilling campiness of the movie's sensationalized conviction
without so much as a veiled regret. Dunaway doesn't just
toss out an overzealous act simply for the purpose of mocking
the persona or manipulating the audience, either; she genuinely
disappears into the role. Anyone who would dare to say that
she doesn't at least look or sound a little like the source
is not telling the truth.
this sentiment in front of us, why, then, does the movie
that surrounds her have to be so immensely detestable? I
dunno. There is neither decision nor discovery made during
the course of this shapeless mess. It lacks almost all sense
of logic, flinging out one scene after the next without
so much as an established pattern to manage the playing
field. Light and dark moments are staggered systematically
like a checkerboard, sometimes even starting with one tone
and shifting to another before a sequence is completed.
There is nothing wrong with implementing contrast in a movie
like this, but each scene here exists as either a negative
or positive argument without any shades of gray. They are
even absent of the desire to provide outraged viewers with
a narrative level, furthermore, the film is one of the most
utterly insulting. By claiming to be a complete account
of Joan Crawford's twisted life from the perspective of
her watchful daughter, for starters, the movie shamelessly
demands us to believe that Christina remembers when she
was a baby in her adoptive mother's arms, or that she could
effectively assume what kind of person her mother was before
she was even born. Secondly, time frames have about as much
weight on the plot as an empty bottle of liquoroften,
moments that actually occur several years apart appear in
the film with mere seconds of separation and no advanced
setup to prepare us for the abrupt shifts. Christina's first-handed
testimonies into her mother's destructive lifestyle, furthermore,
lack all sense of humanity; she observes, reacts, but never
takes a moment to truly question why her mother was such
a maniac at some intervals and such a saint during others.
This not only undermines the purpose of Ms. Crawford's thesis,
it also abolishes any potential for a thorough outcome.
director, Frank Perry, knows how to set up elaborate, old-Hollywood-style
camera shots here, but he has not a clue of how to imbed
substance beneath the surface. It is a transparent, cold,
destructive debacle that exists merely for the pleasure
of wrenching stomachs. During one scene, the young Christina
stares blankly at a cut of medium rare beef that is bloody
in the center, the disgust of touching such a plate of food
overriding even the sharp demands by her mother to eat every
last bite before she leaves the table. At that exact moment,
we realize that Christina's misfortune parallels the audience's
in many regardsif she can't even stomach something
so obviously undercooked, just how in the world are we supposed
to do the same?
© 2003, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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