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Sun, May 12 at 12:20pm, 7:00pm


  • Dir. Frank Perry
  • USA
  • 1981
  • 129 min.
  • R
  • DCP
  • Assistive Listening
  • Hearing Loop

Part of Weekend Classics and playing with MILDRED PIERCE

Spend Mother’s Day with the flip side to Joan Crawford’s devoted Mildred Pierce as we revisit Frank Perry’s wild and tragic camp classic! Outrageous and controversial, this is the story of legendary movie star Crawford (Faye Dunaway) as she struggles for her career and battles the inner demons of her private life. This torment was manifested in her relationships with her adopted children, Christina (Diana Scarwid) and Christopher (Xander Berkeley). The public Crawford was a strong-willed, glamorous object of admiration, but MOMMIE DEAREST reveals the private Crawford — the woman desperate to be a mother, adopting her children when she was single and trying to survive in a devastating industry that swallows careers thoughtlessly. The rage, the debilitating strain, and the terrifying descent into alcoholism and child abuse are graphically — and unforgettably — depicted in this film, based upon Christina Crawford’s best-selling book.

““There are a few moments that give it its reputation for being campy,’ [John] Waters says. I ‘get why people think it’s campy, because Joan Crawford’s life was over the top. But I think it’s a really, really good movie. Except for her ripping up all those rose plants in front of the house and the wire hangers [she is appalled that daughter Christina uses them and beats her with one] — if you took those scenes out, it might have won an Oscar.’

Yes, Waters admits, ‘Those two scenes are howlers. But it’s certainly not like SHOWGIRLS, where it’s so bad it’s good. It’s not like [director] Frank Perry didn’t know what he was doing.’

Why is MOMMIE DEAREST remembered as more of a quirky cult film than a serious melodrama? Waters thinks the Hollywood publicity machine is in part to blame. ‘When that movie came out, it got bad reviews — and they tried to turn it into a ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW,’ he says. ‘They planted gays in the audience with wire hangers, screaming, `Wire hangers!'

To Waters, this is a crime. ‘It is a very serious movie and was very enjoyable for me — though for others it obviously failed.’ He’s also enamored of Faye Dunaway’s performance: ‘I think she’s great in the movie. When they always used to always say, `So and so is’ and then the [character’s name], God knows she was Joan Crawford in the movie. It was as if method acting had taken over and stolen her soul. But she won’t talk about the movie. I don’t get it. I don’t think she has anything to be embarrassed about.’” —Chicago Tribune

“Miss Dunaway's work here amounts to a small miracle, as one movie queen transforms herself passionately and wholeheartedly into another.” —Janet Maslin, New York Times (Sep 18, 1981)

“Inscrutably powerful and brutally honest about diva worship as another form of male domination, MOMMIE DEAREST is to camp what Medea was to Dr. Benjamin Spock.” —Eric Henderson, Slant Magazine