Intro by Brandon
Mommie Dearest is a 1981 biographical drama film about classic film star Joan Crawford. It is not a good movie. In fact, prominent film critic Roger Ebert opens up his review by saying, “I can’t imagine who would want to subject themselves to this movie.” But this is one of those rare films that aspired to greatness, but ended up passing into so-bad-it’s-good territory instead.
The plot follows Joan Crawford, a well-known movie star of the classic era, as she adopts two kids because, well, we don’t really know. Because it’s the 1930s and women have kids? Joan is eager to welcome these two adopted kids into her home, but she has her share of problems. Joan has unrealistic expectations of her kids and has spells of explosive anger when the kids behave like kids instead of the portrait of perfection she was wanting.
Unintentionally, Mommie Dearest is a lot of fun to watch. It paints Joan Crawford as a monster, and, watching this, you’re constantly wondering what diabolical thing she’s going to do next. The acting and some of the art direction are over the top, so even in its darkest moments, this is a hard film to take completely seriously. This was the kind of film that made me want to do impressions, even parodies, of scenes.
Even with all of its flaws, though, the real crime of this film is that it could have been a much better film with a few minor changes. While it has its merits and a cult following today, Maria and I talk about how this could have been a good film.
And, of course, this film gives us a lot to talk about in regards to mental health. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Hollywood’s treatment of mental illness are all discussed in this episode.
So grab your wire hangers and get ready to hear no less than five Joan Crawford impersonations in this episode of Peculiar Picture Show, the podcast that talks about movies, maladies, and mental health! I hope everyone enjoys it. Except you, Christina. Christina, you know what you did.
Overall Thoughts: It’s so bad that we both loved it
B: First time seeing this; Christina Crawford didn’t approve of the movie; all I knew was the wire hanger scene; liked it not for the reasons why they wanted people to like it; re-marketed as a comedy, not a drama, which helped the movie, but Joan Crawford herself seemed to “re-market” herself from “the girl next door” to a Hollywood movie star
M: Unintentional comedy and why I chose it; my brother got me into this movie; gay community loves this movie; accuracy is not really confirmed (leaves out two other children); Joan Crawford is one of the original movie stars and did have a traumatic childhood; Faye Dunaway also terrorized people during the making of this film
Like: Laugh along with the terrible acting
B: Funny; campy; amusing
M: Funny; campy; entire movie is Joan Crawford fucking with Christina; nostalgic; wire hanger scene is a gift that keeps giving
Dislike: A very one-note mother-daughter fight
B: Very one note (the plot is just Christina wants to do the right thing but her mother is a bitch); not subtle; everything is over-the-top; bad directing; problems with the narrative
M: One, big, long mother-daughter fight, like Family Guy
Mental Health: OCD traits, and a portrait of borderline personality disorder?
B: So much to say; movie makes excuses for some irrational behavior, and that’s how a lot of movies get it wrong: there is no clear reason; I think maybe Joan had symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder; abuse and long-term fear of distress/neglect as a child is one environmental cause of BPD
M: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD); physical and emotional abuse; trauma; substance abuse
B: A lot of what Joan Crawford was was her resenting her common upbringing. She grew up poor, as the girl next door, and she never wanted to be that. When you understand that about Joan Crawford, it adds a level of understanding to this because she’s pushing (she’s abusing) her daughter because she doesn’t want her daughter to be the common, poor kid, so she gives her daughter all these privileges but at the same time comes down really hard on her. It’s a confused mix of a lot of things, but I think a lot of it comes down to that she doesn’t want to be the person she grew up with.
B: Mental illness treatment really is making sure the things you’re doing for your mental health count as much as everyone else who doesn’t have these issues.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Symptoms/Traits
Negative Traits of BPD
- Intense, irrational fear of abandonment
- Unstable relationships
- Unclear or shifting self image
- Impulsive or destructive behaviors
- Self harm
- Extreme emotional swings
- Chronic feelings of emptiness
- Explosive anger
- Feeling suspicious/out of touch with reality (paranoia)
Positive Traits of BPD
- Well-developed intuition
Our next movie will be American Beauty (1999)… probably.
We might be doing something special. Stay tuned.