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Mommie Dearest

review by Ren C.

Rated PG

Studio: Paramount

Running Time: 128 minutes

Starring Faye Dunaway

Written by Frank Yablans, Frank Perry, Tracy Hotchner and Robert Getchell
Based upon the book by Christina Crawford

Directed by Frank Perry

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Theatrical Trailer, Photo Gallery

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital English 5.1, English Mono, English Closed Captions, English Subtitles, Chapter Search

Released: July 17th, 2001

"Mommie Dearest" is one of those movies that no matter how hard someone tries can't be squeezed into a genre. When this movie was first released in 1981, it was marketed as a straight ahead dramatic movie, with some Oscar buzz even being generated for Faye Dunaway. However, as people actually went to see the movie, it started to make that journey from drama to camp. Watching the movie, it is easy to see how this jump could be made. While Faye Dunaway is without question a great actress, there are many points in this movie where "over the top" is being kind in describing her performance.

"Mommie Dearest" tells the story of Joan Crawford through the eyes of her daughter, Christina Crawford from the time she was adopted until Joan Crawford's death in 1977. This is absolutely a "warts and all" biography, as Joan Crawford is made to look like an obsessive-compulsive borderline psychotic control freak. Over the course of the movie I was amazed that any child could grow up to even remotely normal with such a domineering mother, not to mention being in such an atypical environment. Christina Crawford grew up in the Hollywood spotlight, with things so personal as birthday parties and Christmas celebrations being fodder for media coverage. This is in addition to the fact that Joan Crawford expected her to be absolutely perfect in every respect.

One of the best examples of this is the infamous wire hanger scene, where Joan flies off the handle when she discovers her daughters' dresses hanging on wire hangers. Time and again, Christina does something minor wrong that most normal parents wouldn't even notice, and she is punished severely for it by Joan.

Also covered in the course of the movie is Joan Crawford's rapidly declining career, with an Academy Award win for "Mildred Pierce" serving as the only highlight. It seemed as though every time Crawford's career took a wrong turn, she would take it out on Christina. The movie struck a nice balance between career and family life, depicting it in such a way that leads viewers to believe that Joan Crawford actually balanced her life in this somewhat haphazard manner.

I was also very impressed with the acting job of Mara Hobel, who portrays the young Christina. For a girl that couldn't have been any older than eight, she gives an acting job that some veterans would have to reach to portray. One example of this is at the end of the floor scrubbing scene, where Hobel puts more emotion into one line than some actors put into an entire movie. One of the few problems I had with the movie, however, was the disappearance of Christopher Crawford, Joan's second adopted child, who seems to drop out of the movie halfway through and doesn't reappear until Crawford's funeral. This is understandable, because it is Christina's story, but some passing explanation as to where he had gone would have been nice.

Overall, though, the movie serves as a very interesting look of the self dubbed "queen of Hollywood" during a time in Hollywood that will more than likely never be recaptured.

For a twenty-year-old movie, the transfer looks slightly better than it should be expected to, but not by much. The print suffers from numerous blemishes and flaws that can be distracting at times, although not distracting enough to take the viewer out of the movie. While blacks are dark and rich, some of the daytime scenes seem slightly washed out as though the colors had faded slightly. Again, not anything horrible, but slightly distracting.

A new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has been supplied with this film, and it makes good use of what is available. Ambient sounds seem to shine the most here, such as the crashing of surf at the beach. However, dialogue at some points seems to be separated, at the expense of being heard clearly. In some cases, it seems as though dialogue that should be very audible is almost subconscious, which brings the overall experience down a few notches. Also supplied with the movie are mono tracks in English and French, along with English subtitles and closed captions.

Typical Paramount catalog release here, as the only features supplied are a photo gallery, which looks to be a series of publicity stills, and one of the longest theatrical trailers I have ever seen. This trailer runs almost four minutes, and manages to encapsulate virtually the entire movie. While I think that trailers have gotten worse in the last few years insofar as they give away too much, the art of constructing the trailer has certainly come a long way.

"Mommie Dearest" may stand as one of the most scathing celebrity biopics ever committed to film, and as such deserves a viewing by any fans of Joan Crawford. This film also occupies the bizarre middle ground between drama and camp, so anyone who enjoys both those genres should give this a look. The movie is, par for the course for Paramount, steeply priced, and the disc as a whole does not stand up very well. I give this a recommendation to rent.

(4/5 - NOT included in final score)




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