Notoriously Bad Films: Mommie Dearest (1981)

Where, oh, where do I begin? 

Mommie Dearest is a biographical drama based on the memoir of the same name written by Christina Crawford about her mother, the famed screen legend, Joan Crawford, and the troubling relationship that the mother and daughter pair had. The film was directed by Frank Perry, a man who definitely did not have enough experience with actors to helm this film. Mommie Dearest stars Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, a role that she would go down in cult film history for. 

So, let’s start with Dunaway. It’s  very clear that she felt that the role of Joan Crawford would earn her an Academy Award. Unfortunately, director Frank Perry didn’t have enough experience on when to tell actors to “reel in” their performance. So, what we end up seeing is Dunaway overacting the shit out of Joan Crawford. And this is what ultimately led to Paramount remarketing the film upon its release. It was no longer marketed as a serious drama but, instead,  marketed much like Rocky Horror Picture Show. This obviously displeased Dunaway, as she felt that this role was it. But, anybody watching the film can see that she over-acted and repeatedly delivered lines weirdly. 

Speaking of weird lines, the dialogue in this film is unbearably clunky and awkward. With four writers (Frank Yablans, Frank Perry, Tracy Hotchner, and Robert Gotchell), you would think that there would be some decent dialogue somewhere in the script. But, you would be wrong. Combine the bad writing with Dunaway’s overacting and that, my friends, is how we got this scene: 

On top of everything, the real life Christina Crawford was very disappointed with the film. Although she documented the abuse she faced from her adoptive mother in her memoir, she had stated, after seeing the film, that not even her mother deserved that depiction. 

Mommie Dearest is such a weird film to watch simply because the abuse scenes are difficult to watch but, at the same time, because of the acting and the dialogue, I found myself laughing multiple times during some very stressful moments in the film where both Joan and Christina were breaking down crying. That was definitely not the original intention, but it was the end result.

Although I’m writing about this film for my “Notoriously Bad Films” series, I love the hell out of it. Mommie Dearest really is just such an absurd film to watch. I love it so much, I bought it, used, for $3.99.  


One thought on “Notoriously Bad Films: Mommie Dearest (1981)

  1. Totally agree that Mommie Dearest is in many ways an absurd piece of cinematic schlock littered with incredibly melodramatic scenes seismically overacted. It’s also a beautifully detailed example of life in Hollywood in the forties and fifties. Thanks for the fascinating review. Loved the background information about Dunaway.

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