A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mommie Dearest is a cult-classic adaptation of actress Joan Crawford's daughter's tell-all, published in 1978, exposing her mother as a self-absorbed narcissist, alcoholic, and abusive, cruel parent. It features casual smoking and drinking, excessive strictness and verbal abuse, slapping, screaming fights, obscenities, and a famous scene involving spectacular rage over the use of wire hangers. There is casual profanity ("bitch," "s--t") and one brief use of "f--k." Though it's a disturbing portrait of a Hollywood star's sad life behind the scenes and the abuse suffered by her children, who claim they were adopted as a publicity stunt, the dramatic production and over-the-top performances have earned the film a spot for its campy brilliance. Best for teens who can understand the pathos here as well as the impressionistic world of memoirs-turned-film and Lifetime-style production.
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What's the story?
Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) was a famous, beloved star of the silver screen for decades, but this movie, based on the memoir of her adopted daughter Christina (Diana Scarwid), tells another story of a deeply disturbed, addicted, abusive woman who couldn't maintain romantic relationships, was obsessed with her career, and didn't love her children unless they were making her look good. Here, viewers are treated to Christina's side of the story, from her highly publicized adoption, troubled childhood, and increasingly strained relationship with Mommie dearest.
Is it any good?
This quirky classic may not be good in the traditional way we value films, but it's a unique study in memoirs-turned-biopics. It was widely hated upon release in 1981 for its embarrassing tawdriness and reckless interpretation of the book on which it was allegedly based, but it has since come to represent high camp that may or may not reveal much about the real Crawford but still tells us something useful about Hollywood's treatment of its biggest stars and the realities of life as the children of famous actors -- at least through the lens of a director bringing a memoir to life.
The performances have been called near kabuki for good reason -- everything is overacted, overly felt, and so played to the hilt that this version of what would otherwise be truly sad abuse instead often reads as comical. Great for discussions about our depictions of the Hollywood machine, the unreliable narrator, and the benefits (if any) of the tell-all.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of memoirs as film. Which others have you seen? What makes this one so scandalous?
Can we trust memoirs as the truth or as merely one version? What might Joan Crawford's memoir have revealed?
How do the film's style and the actor's deliveries impact the overall tone of this film? Is it serious? Or silly?
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