Mommie Dearest is one of the most memorable films of all time, perhaps for all the wrong reasons. The campy insanity and even the somewhat campy insanity of the making of this movie is just as memorable. It’s well known that Faye Dunaway refuses to discuss this film and has been known to leave interviews at just the mention of Mommie Dearest. She’s even stated that Joan Crawford’s ghost haunted her because of this film. We hear all the time about how brave a performer is for stepping into a certain role and it’s usually overselling it, but to me Faye Dunaway is pretty damn brave for signing up for these intense three hour makeup jobs and giving herself up completely to this role.
The genius and cult status of Mommie Dearest resulted in how everybody making it truly believed they were making a compelling drama that would win Academy Awards, and instead made one of the most entertaining campy films of all time. Mommie Dearest is perhaps the only film in the history of American film to be released with the advertising of “for your consideration this Oscar season” and then weeks later with everybody mocking it the studio changing their tune and marketing it as a Rocky Horror Picture Show kind of film, having drag queens in front of the theater handing out wire hangers.
It’s a shame this movie didn’t come out nowadays because if Casey Affleck can win an Academy Award for pretending to be depressed and mumbling for two hours, Faye Dunaway certainly would be worthy of literally becoming Joan Crawford.
I’ve never seen Mommie Dearest, other than select scenes on cable so when I got my hands on the Hollywood Royalty Edition with commentary from my hero John Waters, I had to finally check it out. There is nobody more perfect to do a commentary track for this film than John Waters. So much of Mommie Dearest is like a reenactment of John Waters’ films in the 70s. The way Joan Crawford screams at her daughter “I’d rather you go to school bald than looking like a tramp” is reminiscent of Divine as Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble, threatening to beat her daughter with a car aerial. Female Trouble also features a scene towards the end with the mother choking her daughter with the intention of killing her.
John Waters’ commentary track makes me wish more notable films would bring in people who are fans of the movie instead of people who worked on it. Most commentary tracks are incredibly dull and have stars and directors repeating facts you’ve already read on IMDB. John Waters on the other hand brings a level of entertainment that enhances the viewing experience of Mommie Dearest. What I love most about the commentary is how John Waters loves this film and doesn’t look down on it. Minus a few scenes and lines, it’s a compelling drama in his eyes.
I suppose there’s an argument to be made for that, but once you have a scene with a mother choking her daughter slamming her through furniture with a reporter in the other room, the idea of a serious compelling drama goes out the window.
One of the brilliant observations John Waters makes about Mommie Dearest is how Joan Crawford lived in a time before Prozac. She was a heavy alcoholic because that’s probably the best medication Hollywood offered in her time. Hollywood also happens to be a town that attracts the most insecure people and drains them for their benefit.
John Waters also mentions that every time Christina complained she should’ve thought about what the nuns would do to her at the orphanage.
Mommie Dearest is in a way the very first horror film created for a gay audience. With how bipolar and unpredictable Joan Crawford is, the movie plays like a campy gay version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. John Waters mentions that Faye Dunaway’s performance as Joan Crawford is the first time a drag queen is played by a woman and with how intense the makeup job is, it’s hard to disagree. The makeup used to turn Faye Dunaway into Joan Crawford is as frightening as something from the silent film era, like Lon Chaney as The Phantom of the Opera or Nosferatu. The way Faye Dunaway smiles at one point and slowly turns her mouth into a dark and frightening grin is reminiscent of Tim Curry’s portrayal as Pennywise The Clown in It.
Not only does this bring to mind Jack Nicholson in The Shining but the real Joan Crawford played an ax wielding maniac in the William Castle film Strait-Jacket.
Fay Dunaway’s performance is by far one of the most memorable and entertaining performances that you can watch over and over and still be thrilled by. Never again will you see an actress so dedicated to a role expecting to be nominated for an Academy Award that instead becomes a comedic camp masterpiece that will forever stand the test of time. During the commentary John Waters points out that if you don’t find this film entertaining you shouldn’t be able to say you love movies and I agree. Honestly, how many women have won an Oscar and have something just as memorable in their career as the “no wire hangers” scene?
Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford has multiple memorable one liners such as “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt” and “I should’ve known you’d know where to find the boys and the booze.” Personally I think this level of thrilling entertainment is harder to achieve than an Academy Award. So many actors and actresses can give a dramatic pat on the back performance and get nominated for an Academy Award, few can give such an entertaining performance that is still remembered and just as re-watchable thirty years later.
Mommie Dearest has the reputation of tarnishing the memory of Joan Crawford but I feel an argument can be made for the opposite. If it wasn’t for Mommie Dearest, only film buffs would really care about who Joan Crawford was. Certainly a new generation decided to give Mildred Pearce a chance because of Mommie Dearest.
Mommie Dearest is unintentionally one of the most entertaining films to ever exist. The glamorous costumes, the one liners and campy insanity will never be forgotten and The Hollywood Royalty Edition is one of the greatest DVDs to exist. Mommie Dearest is already memorable but the value of entertainment is enhanced when John Waters mentions during the scene where Christina is looking down at Joan’s body “I bet when you’re a celebrity and die, the funeral parlor calls the local necrophiliacs in the area. ‘I got Joan Crawford’s body. If you got $100,000 you get twenty hours.’”