The phrase "No wire hangers!" has become so firmly lodged within the pop culture lexicon that it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Mommie Dearest long ago passed from the realm of scarifying biopic into something approaching a cult classic. Nearly 30 years later, Faye Dunaway's turn as classic Hollywood actress Joan Crawford stands as a landmark of ... well, of something. Triumphing over a laughably bad script? Surviving the adaptation of a trashy, tell-all memoir (penned by adoptive daughter Christina, who has a fun cameo as an adoption agency employee) that's been more or less debunked, standing as an example of what some characterize as one of the more vicious attempts at tarnishing a Tinseltown legend? A master class in how to thoroughly inhabit a beloved star's skin, despite the relative lack of realism in the film itself?
However you'd like to describe Faye Dunaway's work here, you can say this much for it: you won't soon forget those wild-eyed tantrums and spiteful epithets hurled at seemingly innocuous and adorable children – Paramount themselves realized the camp potential of the film not long after its release in 1981, when audiences began turning up to screenings with cans of Ajax and wire hangers to indulge in a little participatory theater; the film's promotional campaign was re-tooled slightly to include this priceless tagline: "Meet the biggest mother of 'em all!"
Mommie Dearest unfolds like every adopted child's worst nightmare – Joan Crawford, upon revealing to her boyfriend, Greg Savitt (Steve Forrest), that she's incapable of bearing children, becomes intent upon adopting them. By pulling a few strings, Greg brings Christina into Joan's life (played by the almost unnervingly blonde Mara Hobel as a child and by Diana Scarwid as an adult), setting in motion an abusive, traumatic childhood – one punctuated by nocturnal tantrums (yes, storing those dresses on wire hangers is a baaaaad idea, kids), frantic yardwork and compulsive floor-scrubbing, with the odd bit of physical abuse thrown in for good measure. Director Frank Perry, who passed away in 1995, keeps things flowing smoothly along, almost as if Dunaway's possessed performance overtakes the narrative, blowing past the more cheeseball line readings: "I can handle the socks." "Nothing is clean!" "Don't fuck with me fellas. This ain't my first time at the rodeo." and, of course, "Tina! Bring me the axe!"
It's not an essential film by any stretch of the imagination, but Mommie Dearest is fun – mindless, trashy and giddily over-the-top fun. Call it a "True Hollywood Story" on steroids and acid; Faye Dunaway obliterates all else on screen, bringing the biggest mother of 'em all to glorious, insane life. You'll at least think twice about whether you've cleaned your bathroom floor today. The DVD
Mommie Dearest doesn't look quite as sharp as it could, but nevertheless, this 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is mostly solid. There are a few flecks and heavy grain (particularly in the more low-lit scenes and the opening credits sequence), but once the film proper gets going, defects are minimal. The Audio:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is strong, if unremarkable – dialogue and score don't overlap or sound muddy, with both coming through clearly. A Dolby 2.0 stereo track is included, as is a French 2.0 stereo track. English subtitles are also on board. The Extras:
The main attraction here is an appropriately catty and appreciative commentary by director John Waters, who feels the film isn't necessarily campy, but rather "so good, it's perfect." His low-key, often stingingly funny asides make this one of the better yack-tracks in recent months. Also included is the 14 minute, 15 second featurette "The Revival of Joan," with recollections of the star; the 13 minute, 14 second "Life With Joan"; the 16 minute "Joan Lives On," in which Waters reiterates his affection for Mommie Dearest: "This is not a critic's movie, it's an audience's movie." A photo gallery, the film's original theatrical trailer in anamorphic widescreen and trailers for Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Bueller... Bueller... Edition, Reds: Special Collector's Edition and Titanic: Special Collector's Edition complete the package. Final Thoughts:
Mommie Dearest ain't high art, but it is goofily entertaining; Christina Crawford's scathing depiction of her mother, Hollywood icon Joan Crawford, is trashy, bilious fun – your tolerance for tongue-in-cheek camp will determine your level of enjoyment. Die-hard Mommie fans will enjoy the supplements and Waters' commentary, while neophytes might want to give this a rental spin. Recommended.