Yesterday HE commenter Bobby Peru attempted a takedown of Frank Perry‘s Mommie Dearest, calling it a “florid embrassment” that uses “cheap, tacky artifice to generate cartoonish shocks” and “unintentional comedy.” I’m sorry but that’s been the prevailing rant against this film for decades, and it’s just as wrong today as it was 35 years ago. I explained what it actually is as concisely as I knew how.
“Mommie Dearest is maudlin soap-opera realism,” I replied, “overbaked but winkingly so, everyone in on the joke and yet taking it ‘seriously,’ and at the same time a melodrama that’s occasionally intensified and heightened to the level of Kabuki theatre. The comedy is not ‘unintentional,’ but at the same time it’s not really a ‘comedy’ — it’s a kind of hyper-realism with a campy edge.”
“If Perry had modulated Dunaway’s performance, some of the great lines — ‘No wire hangers EVER!,’ ‘Don’t fuck with me, fellas!’ — wouldn’t have worked so well. Those lines are the stuff of Hollywood legend, right up there with Bette Davis saying “what a dump!” and Vivien Leigh saying “I’ll never by hungry again.”
Peru: “This post is quite amusing for a number of reasons, but I concur Dunaway is a legend for her finite run of the above mentioned films, which will go down in film history. However, to call Mommie Dearest ‘that great Frank Perry film’ is, at the least, oxymoronic, and at most a wild, almost unbelievable overstatement, especially coming from a ‘film Catholic’ like you, Jeff; the Movie Godz do not approve. Even Dunaway knows what a POS that florid embarrassment is; after years of rudely dismissing any journalist who would dare to even breathe the title, she finally discussed recently and blamed Perry for ruining her career by not working to ‘direct’ her performance, thereby leaving it unmodulated and Dunaway herself twisting in the wind (as if great, Oscar-winning actors can’t self-direct at least to a modicum).
“The movie is camp junk for a reason — because it is cheap, tacky artifice with one agenda, which is to generate cartoonish shocks. This has not stopped me and millions from enjoying it as such, but ‘great’ it most certainly is not unless you are referring to unintentional comedy. As for Dunaway herself, the Crawford turn bolstered by decades of diva behavior (my friend is her neighbor and has told many a story) well past her glory years has also contributed to why her career went to the toilet; too many grandiose notions about herself and a history of making lives difficult onset. I’ve heard first-hand stories of her dismissing acting students while auditing classes (‘They’re staring at me’) to parading up and down the aisle of a coach flight — get this — reading a script aloud. She is a major nut, great as she was.”