Tamara and I really enjoyed the recent FX series FEUD about the legendary battle of wills between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.
Having watched those two go at it, the timing seemed right to go back and watch the 1981 camp classic MOMMIE DEAREST.
Faye Dunaway plays the screen legend in either an incredible performance or an over-the-top embarrassment of a train wreck performance based on which critics you listened to at the time.
I'll line up with the latter.
We see Joan in her movie star glory, fighting aging, relationships and her own ego as her star begins to fade.
For publicity or desire (you decide) she decides to adopt two orphans, Christopher and Christina.
Christina is a strong willed child and well played a youngster by Mara Hobel. When she digs her heels in against Joan's iron rule, its funny at first. but then the "true" story takes an ugly turn, graphically showing long beatings and verbal abuse of the children. It's hard to watch and paints Joan in an unforgivable light. If this is who she really was, she's a monster.
BUT, just as when Christina's book was published after Crawford's death, and then adapted to this film, the woman is not here to offer any counterpoint.
Are these accurate recollections about a mad woman consumed with her own personal demons, or the exaggerated "get rich by publishing a tell-all" fabrications of a daughter left out of a will?
At about the halfway point, the film moves forward to Christina as a teenager (well played by Diana Scarwid). Bouncing between a boarding school, a convent, home and eventually her own, Christina is painted in the best possible light, while Joan is always the sleeping Demon, waiting to erupt.
Her marriage to the CEO of Pepsi is well documented, but major parts of her life are left out, including the two other children Joan adopted later in life, both of whom have completely denied any allegations of abuse.
The movie itself is like a highly polished TV movie, with a B-level cast, cheesy music and Dunaway spinning at its core, in an overly mannered, LOUD performance with the no shades of remorse.
There are a couple scenes that have become classics, including the insane "No More Wire Hangers!" sequence and Crawford's midnight chopping down of her rose garden.
Abuse is abuse, and watching anyone abuse their children verbally or physically is not my idea of entertainment.
FUED had more humanity, terrific dialogue and real acting in any episode than the entire two hours plus of this cheaply produced mess.
By the time Joan was leaping over furniture and trying to choke Christina to death in front of a Redbook reporter, I felt like reality, good taste and good storytelling had been left far behind.
What a mess. We'll slap it with a D.