Picks and Pans Review: Mommie Dearest

Whether or not you believe that the late screen legend Joan Crawford was guilty of the monstrous child abuse her adopted daughter Christina alleged in her 1978 best-seller, you’ll have to admire Faye Dunaway’s wickedly zestful portrayal. It is the kind of bravura acting Robert DeNiro exhibited in Raging Bull. Dressed to perfection by Irene Sharaff, Dunaway looks every inch the part, with padded shoulders, ankle-strap shoes, thick eyebrows and red scar of a mouth. But her achievement goes deeper than makeup. Dunaway often plays Crawford as Caligula—thrashing her daughter with wire hangers, pummeling her with a cleanser can and chopping off her golden locks in a punishing rage. Astonishingly, Dunaway also provides insights into Crawford’s fear of aging, poverty and obscurity that is barely hinted at in Christina’s book. Still, don’t expect an objective biography. Mommie Dearest reduces Crawford’s marriages, affairs, films and even adopted son Christopher to shadowy presences. This is a duel of wills between mother and daughter. Director Frank (Diary of a Mad Housewife) Perry aims each shot for the jugular—and rarely misses. Mara Hobel and Diana Scarwid are wonderful playing Christina the child and the adult, respectively, but it’s Dunaway, greedily attacking her role, who proves most riveting. In this glossy, gaudy Hollywood kind of movie, she makes her very own kind of truth. (PG)

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