Reviewed by Stephen MacMillan Moser, Fri., Oct. 1, 1999
MOMMIE DEARESTD: Frank Perry (1981); with Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, Howard da Silva, Mara Hobel. A fright-night horror movie if there ever was one, Mommie Dearest stars Faye Dunaway in the role she was born to play: Joan Crawford. No other actress alive could have portrayed Joan with the fire and intensity that, much to Faye's chagrin, has rendered her name synonymous with the role. Spawning a zillion one-liners ("It's not you I'm mad at, Helga, it's the dirt"; "Strap yourself in, Christopher!"; "No wire hangers, ever!"; "Tina! Bring me the axe!"; "Don't fuck with me, fellas"; "You're a lousy excuse for someone who really cares," among others), the film is not to be taken seriously and is definitely not for the faint of heart. In the celebrated "night raid" scene, Faye, as Joan, performs what can only be described as American kabuki. With cold-cream obliterating her features, except for the twisted mouth and incendiary eyes, Faye becomes the enraged Joan, practically showing us the inside of Joan's brain. The scene of the psychosomatically bedridden Joan accepting her Oscar for her superlative work on Mildred Pierce, as well as the famous "Christmas broadcast" scene, are thrillingly realistic, as is the scene in which Joan watches Christina pretending to be Joan addressing her fans. Dunaway has said that it took her a long time to shake Joan out of her system. There is no doubt of this, since Dunaway's performance is riveting, and this is her best period for movie roles. Favorite moment (one of so
many): a drunken Joan trying to lure her lover back to her, begging him to stay. He turns to the vulnerable and weepy Joan and tells her, "If you're
acting, you're wasting your time. If you're not, you're wasting mine."