The relationship between Christina Crawford and her adoptive mother Joan Crawford is presented from Christina's view. Unable to bore children, Joan, in 1940, was denied children through regular adoption agencies due to her twice divorced status and being a single working person. Her lover at the time, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lawyer Greg Savitt, was able to go through a brokerage to adopt a baby girl, who would be Christina, the first of Joan's four adoptive children. Joan believes that her own difficult upbringing has made her a stronger person, and decides that, while providing the comforts that a successful Hollywood actress can afford, she will not coddle Christina or her other children, she treating Christina more as a competitor than a daughter. Joan's treatment of Christina is often passive-aggressive, fueled both by the highs and lows of her career, the narcissism that goes along with being an actress, and alcohol abuse especially during the low times. However, Joan sees much of ... Written by
As part of Faye Dunaway's contract for this film, Paramount was required to take out trade ads in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter touting Dunaway for an Oscar nomination as Best Actress. See more »
When Joan meets with Mayer in his office, she is standing in front of a large portrait featuring a group of MGM stars. This scene is supposed to be taking place circa 1943. The portrait clearly features Esther Williams standing at the end of the front row in her Roman costume for JUPITER'S DARLING, which was filmed in 1955, 12 years after Joan left Metro. See more »
Some of the behavior of the real Joan Crawford (Lucille LeSueur) was symptomatic of what we nowadays refer to as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a mindset that fixates on ultra-cleanliness and perfection. Such bizarre behavior as needlessly scrubbing clean floors and clean hands helps reduce one's fears and anxieties. Over-reaction to minor problems is one result. There's a tendency to expect oneself and others to be perfect. If what is being judged is not perfect, then the OCD mindset perceives it to be the opposite of perfection; that is, ruin. There's no in-between.
Character behavior that is weird to begin with, combined with poor film direction, and an exaggerated, over-the-top performance by Faye Dunaway results in plot sequences that are campy and outlandish, thus robbing the story of subtle truths that may be buried under all that bombast.
Excise the rose garden sequence, the wire-hangers/bathroom cleaning sequence, and several other embarrassing parts, and we "might" have a film that could be taken seriously. But, of course, then we couldn't laugh at it. And I do think the film, as is, is good for some laughs.
Having a film protagonist who is such a blatant villain with no character arc is unusual, and helps make this film so bizarre. At least Godzilla, and the great white shark in Jaws, could be forgiven their cruelty, given their inability to be human.
Apart from the bizarre main character in "Mommie Dearest", the film's plot does not flow well. The dialogue also is bizarre and lacks subtext. "Helga, I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at the dirt", says Joan as she spots dirt hiding under a potted plant. And as an out-of-control, angry Joan proceeds to punish a tree in her rose garden, in frustration with Louis B. Mayer, she yells to Christina: "Bring me the ax". How can the viewer not laugh?
Lucille LeSueur undoubtedly was an ambitious woman, a hard worker, and had both genuine talent and a healthy ego. But her human relations with others, especially her adopted daughter, were disasters. We may never know the extent to which "Mommie Dearest" mirrors the real Joan Crawford, or is merely a gross exaggeration by a vengeful "heirless" heir.
Regardless, Joan Crawford left us some terrific films. She had a memorable, unique personality, and will remain a stunning Hollywood legend for as long as Hollywood exists.
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