Parenthood is the trickiest of crafts. Every hope that one’s children will grow up to be their own true selves is shadowed by the urge to yell, ”Be just like me!” The potter’s clay has a personality: Lay the hands on gently and the resulting vase could turn out to have a strong and unexpected shape. Throw it too hard, and it warps and fractures.
A less compromised Mama Rose can be found in Frances, the story of tormented ’30s movie star Frances Farmer (played by Jessica Lange). There are flaws — the madhouse scenes rub a viewer’s nose in Brueghelian squalor, Sam Shepard’s character is a fictional deus ex machina — but the film is intensely frightening whenever Kim Stanley is on screen as Lillian Farmer, a shallow, mean hypocrite who calls her daughter ”little sister,” is terrified that she’ll walk away from Hollywood, and finally commits her to an institution where she’s lobotomized. Frances does get the mother of all go-to-hell speeches toward the end; unfortunately, it seals her doom. B