There are bad movies that flop (Last Action Hero, John Carter) there are bad movies that are disasters (The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Cutthroat Island). And then there are once-in-a-lifetime travesties: Movies that aren’t just bad, and don’t just bomb at the box office, but that really change the face of culture in their awfulness. Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra (bankrupted a studio). Heaven’s Gate (coined a still-in-use template for failure). And chief among them: Mommie Dearest.
Why, more than 35 years after its release, are we still talking about — and watching! — this work of artistic and career hara kiri? Based on the scandalous tell-all by Joan Crawford’s daughter Christina, it features Faye Dunaway — at the time, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, but also one of its most notorious pains-in-the-ass — in an impersonation of the imperious Golden Era glamazon, brutalizing her daughter, crazed with ambition, eyebrow-plucked to the point of cosmetic distortion. It’s perhaps the campiest performance ever captured on film, riotously at odds with the seriousness with which La Dunaway treats her. Every dramatic moment is gloriously hilarious; every abusive slap incongruously elicits peels of laughter.
And that’s why we watch it still: Because gays looove their camp icons. We revel in the excess, the lack of self-control (or self-awareness), the kitchiness dressed up in shoulder pads.
Dallas Voice presents a screening of Mommie Dearest at the new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in the Cedars on May 26 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $7 and you can order full-service dine-in-moviegoing from Vetted Well. For tickets. visit Drafthouse.com/dfw.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 20, 2016.