Directed By: Frank Perry
Starring: Fay Dunaway, Rutanya Alda, Diana Scarwid
Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections.
Based on the 1978 book of the same name by Christine Crawford, Mommie Dearest (1981) follows Joan Crawford (Fay Dunaway) during her career, adoption of Christine and of course her hatred of wire-hangers in this docu-drama. Critics savaged the film upon its release though the movie did make almost double its production cost. It would find a second life though with various home video releases, a musical, midnight screenings and Drag Shows dedicated to the larger-than-life star and the movie. Crawford's Dunaway has been replicated on Ru Paul's Drag Race (twice) and its camp-status makes it a firm favorite among the LGBTQ and the psychotronic film lovers around the globe.
Looking beyond its infamy the movie is actually really technically well made. Perry takes what could have been Lifetime Network material and gives it a polish and skill that served him well in the past. This is helped by an amazing production design by Bill Malley (Oscar nominated for The Exorcist), editing Peter Berger (Oscar nominated for Fatal Attraction) and a score by Henry Mancini (four time Oscar winner) and costumes by Irene Sharaff (five time Oscar winner). That is a lot of very talented people working on this movie and whatever you may feel about its dramatics you cannot say that from a tech standpoint the movie doesn't hold up. Dearest is of course known for the infamous "No wire hangers" scene but I think the movie shines on its own merits outside of its incredibly operatic sometimes slightly surreal nature.
Fay Dunaway for all the mocking we like to heap on her for completely going bonkers as the Hollywood star actually disappears in the role. Legend has when asked who she would want to play her, the real Joan Crawford said Dunaway. Diana Scarwid plays the adult Christine and I think she finds the sweet spot in terms of not under or over playing things. It makes me sad that Scarwid wasn't a bigger break out star because she is very talented. Amazing, prior to Mommie Dearest Scarwid actually was nominated for a supporting actress award for Inside Moves (1980). Rutanya Alda plays Carol Ann, Joan's long suffering maid (a seemingly fictional character) and Alda is magically in this and, pretty much anything she's in. Its worth noting that Rutanya kept a diary on the set of Mommie and released an excellent book a few years ago which focuses on the day-to-day of the movies production. Its called The Mommie Dearest Diaries and I highly recommend it.
For all its short comings I think we forget that Mommie Dearest has a lot going for it, even outside of its cult-classic status. You can't really ever separate the film as it was intended (as a serious drama -stop laughing) yet I think it's a rare movie that has been taken back and embraced by a new audience.
To put it in perspective, in 1981 Ordinary People won the Best-Picture Oscar yet does anyone cos-play as those characters? Or quote lines from it's screenplay? I don't think so. Does anyone even really remember, let alone write books and articles about the film? No. Maybe Frank Perry got the last laugh in the end. After all, this wasn't his first time at the rodeo.
Picture: As a Queer film fan that has seen Mommie Dearest a hundred times I feel I can say this is, without a doubt the best this movie has ever looked. I owned this movie on VHS, DVD and now Blu Ray and Paramount has really outdone themselves here. The contrast and uptick in brightness is incredible and the grain is present but not chunky. The colors have a nice pleasing look and isn't over-processed or overly saturated. Its a fantastically well done visual presentation.
Sound: Mommie Dearest comes out SCREAMING with a DTS 5.1 track. Dialogue sound design and Henry Mancini's underrated score comes through wonderfully.
Extras: Paramount was able to port over the previous extras for this release. This includes commentary by John Waters, Featurettes: The Revival of Joan, Life with Joan, Joan Lives On, Photo Gallery and Trailer. New to this set includes: Commentary by American Drag Queen Hedda Lettuce. Hedda gives a hilarious MST3K, it had me HOWLING in my seat. No info, no research just wonderful snark from a Drag Queen and I'm here-for-it! A note to Paramount, more Drag Queens riffing classic movies please and thank you., Also included is a New Filmmaker Focus: Biographer Justin Bozung on Director Frank Perry (HD).