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DEFINING & DEFENDING THE CULT VALUE OF 'MOMMIE DEAREST'

Year of Release: 1981
Maybe because it wasn't about real life despised icons like Richard Nixon, or Senator Joe McCarthy, that a bio got trashed by critics before audiences turned MOMMIE DEAREST into a quotable punchline of bizarre biopic cinema. And yet, anyone who grew up watching this addictive, child-beating, temperamental show biz nightmare really did enjoy the damn thing...

Dare it be said and agreeing with indie director John Waters on the DVD commentary: This maligned motion picture is solid entertainment as Director Frank Norris takes us back to the 1930's up into the 1970's with a colorful yet grainy, lived-in aesthetic as if we're there to suffer along with an incredibly talented child starlet, Mara Hobel as Young Christina Crawford who, grown up, wrote the bestselling tell-all novel that not only became a famous (if infamous) movie, but was her own final word to a rich mother who left her completely out of the will... Ouch!

Mommie Dearest Smackdown...
At one point, Hobel literally stands (stomps) her ground against Faye Dunaway, in a performance where the subtle stuff works better than unintentionally hilarious scenes like "No More Wire Hangers" and especially, "Christina, bring me the axe!"

This soapbox is in the movie, and it's awesome
Which is right out of her William Castle drive-in horror STRAIT-JACKET as opposed to it being brought up as one of many films in her decade-spanning resume. Other than icing her face while leafing through the script for, ironically, ICE FOLLIES OF 1939, and rehearsing with long suffering (most likely a composite character) maid Rutanya Alda for Joan's Oscar winning performance in MILDRED PIERCE...

The timeline covered is completely off-screen, mostly taking place in her well-kept, anally dust-free mansion and, as her daughter ages into method actress Diana Scarwid, the intensity narrows into moments that really goads the viewer into loving-to-hate this woman who's blamed for both physical and mental abuse...

Axing the tree leads to cult hatred
When Scarwid's Christina smiles sweetly while ordering to a classy restaurant's gentleman waiter, Dunaway's snide, penetrating remark, "Don't flirt, Cristina," is far more effective than the noisy stuff... In all, Faye's scary in the role... intimidating and in that, effective as hell...

Meanwhile, Scarwid... critic proof compared to Dunaway... injects eye-dagger expressions progressed from her younger self. After Christina is thrown out of a fancy private school, MOMMIE asks where she can fill up her flask and, after daughter answers too quickly, Dunaway provides her best line:  "You know where to find the boys AND the booze!"

Basically it's all a pulpy soap, including a third act marriage to the very sweet man who humbly ran Pepsi Cola, a nice change from mellow yet miffed, square-jawed, ascot-donning Steve Forrest, whose big brother, Dana Andrews, played opposite Joan in Otto Preminger's DAISY KENYON. And speaking of soap: What Joan does to "help" her daughter, after having finally gotten a role on a soap, is almost worse than the axe, the hanger, and a climactic, unbelievable beating and strangulation as Christina's legs are flipping and flopping on the expensive carpet while a reporter (Jocelyn Brando) is in the next room... Imagine getting away with that nowadays!

Mara Hobel with Faye Dunaway in MOMMIE DEAREST Score: ****
According to John Waters, the studio had "plants" disperse hangers for the audience in order to chalk the entire venture as an "intentional comedy all along"...

What's left out of the film's legacy is an immense fan-base that caught all the television and cable outlet screenings — even before the video boom of the mid 1980's in which, at that point, the cult status was already established: a sort of cult within a cult: Perhaps a combination of those who consider DEAREST a howler to others — the silent majority — who are mesmerized by Faye Dunaway's twisted yet natural, eerily and menacing performance as a psychopathic Hollywood A-list Oscar winner turned B-movie has-been. Say what you (they) will, no one else could have carried what critics and Crawford fans think is "pure fiction," but they didn't live with Joan like the true MOMMIE fans live again and again with Dunaway — with each and every viewing!
Here's stud beau Steve Forrest in this movie and big brother Dana Andrews with Joan in DAISY KENYON
Steve Forrest and Rutyna Alda bookending a cute and proud nurse and doctor who brought the baby
In the comment during this moment, John Waters says this is a great movie to watch in the day, slightly hungover
Merry Christmas from the Crawford family... And remember, you can only keep ONE gift... the rest is for charity...
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