It’s April Fool’s Day, but don’t worry, this blog won’t make any stupid jokes or post any fake reviews. There is only one April Fool’s tradition that we respect around here, and that is to play along with ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot‘ (if you haven’t played along yet, you should try it, it’s so much fun!). Last year, Nathaniel had us watch the Village People, roller-skating musical extravaganza that is Can’t Stop the Music. Following with the “Camp Classic” theme, this year’s pick is Mommie Dearest.
I suppose that is our cue to start theorizing on why Mommie Dearest turned out the way it did. The thing that has made this movie survive in the public consciousness is clearly the fact that the people involved were not planning on making a funny movie (there are too many slow and boring moments for the makers of Mommie Dearest to have meant that comedy to be intentional). But the filmmakers should have known that there was no way to transform Christina Crawford’s memoirs of child abuse at the hands of Hollywood legend Joan Crawford into a good movie.
Christina is coming from too personal a place. There is dispute whether or not the things she describes in her book actually happen, and I don’t know if they did, but it’s obvious that she had plenty of resentful feelings about her mother. The thing is -and I feel a little bad for Christina saying this- that nobody cares about the abuse she suffered as a child. The more interesting story is that of one of the most famous in the world coping with what seems to be a severe case of mental illness.
A straight-forward adaptation of Christina’s memoir would probably have been a bad and bland movie, so thank God for Faye Dunaway, who almost single-handedly brings life and a sense of purpose to this movie. As Joan Crawford, Dunaway gives one of the most puzzling performances I have ever seen, never searching for nuance when a good histrionic scream will do. Dunaway exorcises her body through acting, and the result is one of the most fascinating pieces of acting I have ever seen.
There are so many iconic (and hilarious) moments to choose from. There is the classic “NO WIRE HANGERS!” scene, or the equally nonsensical “Tina! Bring me the ax!“. My personal favorite comes towards the end of the “wire hangers” sequence, when they’re cleaning up the bathroom floor, Joan loses it, and she starts hitting Christina with a can of soap. I don’t know what it says about me that I laughed so much at a parent beating the shit out of her child, but this is the kind of behavior that Mommie Dearest brings out of me. As for a “Best Shot”, there is only one that captures perfectly all that is memorable about this movie. I call it “Dunaway (or Crawford?) Unbound”.