- Movie Rating -

Mommie Dearest (1981)

| September 18, 1981

What a miserable, ugly experience this movie is.  What unremitting pain and despair is trotted out for public entertainment.  Okay, so we have it on good authority that Christina Crawford’s accounts of her mother Joan’s physical and psychological abuse were probably true, but who wants to sit through 129 minutes of it?  This is an uncomfortable experience.

Okay, so let’s start with the source.  Personally, I don’t really understand the tabloid culture.  I don’t understand the mass audience that makes tell-all-books a million-dollar industry.  There’s something creepy about this industry of unearthing of personal peccadillos of the rich and famous, peering through the keyhole to get a look at their dirty laundry.  Yet, apparently, the golden bauble at the center of that industry was “Mommie Dearest” a 1978 expose (unread by me) written by Christina Crawford, the daughter of legendary movie star Joan Crawford, in which she effectively exposed and derided her mother as a hateful, sadistic, violent, screaming harridan unfit to raise children.

I believe that a good movie could be made from this material, an in-depth study of what drove Joan to be this way.  What demons in her past and what frustrations in her current career were driving her to be a grasping, violent alcoholic?  But the movie isn’t about that.  There’s some passing mention of her difficult childhood but largely the movie takes place from Christina’s point of view and any kind of humanity on Joan’s part is lost.  The movie quickly flies into a pattern as young Christina tries to be good, tries to please her mother and fails over and over again.  Joan is a relentless short fuse who blows up into violent tirades aimed largely at Christina.  She chops the child’s hair with scissors.  She beats her with a coat hanger.  And at one point she throws her across a table and bangs her head against the floor.

This isn’t a movie, it’s a sick peep show.  What’s worse is that it doesn’t look like a peep show.  The production looks great.  The cinematography is great.  The costumes are great.  Even some of the editing is great.  This is a very slick production, and I suppose that I could condemn it further if I felt that it looked like bad television, but it doesn’t.  This is a $10,000,000 movie and you can see every dollar on the screen.  It’s the material that feels like bargain basement exploitation.

Many have come forward to claim that Christina’s account of what happened with her mother were true, and I have no reason to doubt it, but why would I want to see a movie about this?  Why did anyone think that this was entertaining?  This just made me feel unclean.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1981) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized