Mommie Dearest

Movie review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Mommie Dearest Movie Poster Image
Campy skewering of Hollywood star is both silly and sad.
  • PG
  • 1981
  • 129 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Surviving an abusive childhood.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Crawford is abusive, self-absorbed, and erratic, drinking, slapping her children, screaming obscenities at them, choking a daughter at one point, and generally punishing them beyond what the transgression calls for, but she insists the children be well-mannered, well-educated, driven, philanthropic, and grateful, giving away toys to less fortunate children each Christmas. Christina and brother Christopher endure the abuse to become responsible adults. Housekeepers, teachers, and some of Crawford's boyfriends are a stable presence in the children's lives.

Violence

Slapping children; spanking; yelling; mother locks daughter in changing room, insists she eat unrefrigerated leftovers from previous night's unfinished dinner, cuts daughter's hair roughly, hits daughter with bottle of cleaner, violently cuts rose bushes.

Sex

A man and woman enter a shower together naked (woman's shoulders up; man's waist up); a woman references seven previous miscarriages.

Language

"F--k," "goddamn," "hell," "bitch," "s--tty," "for Christ's sake"; harsh tones and verbal abuse such as "quitter."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Casual smoking and drinking throughout; references to alcoholism; daughter finds mother passed out, ostensibly drunk.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byUnusualBoop August 7, 2018

This is NOT PG

This is a movie about a broken, abusive family. Once it came on in the middle of the night when I was 11 and I was scarred. And I had seen movies like Grease, W... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bymissmovielover October 24, 2016

"No wire hangers ever"

Mommie Dearest is about the movie actress Joan Crawford as an abusive adotive mother. This movie is serious and hard to watch not to be taken lightly. She beats... Continue reading

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?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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