By Mark Harris
Updated August 03, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

Mommie Dearest

type
  • Movie

Episode Recaps

Grotesque representations of American womanhood gone wrong? Kitsch classics? Underappreciated feminist manifestos? Any way you read ’em, this week’s DVD shelves offer a compelling double bill. There’s no doubt you could belittle both ”Mommie Dearest” and ”The Stepford Wives” for their cinematic shortcomings and histrionic excesses — but then you’d miss the bigger picture. That’s what happened when ”Mommie Dearest,” Frank Perry’s spooky, narratively wobbly biopic of abusive superstar mom Joan Crawford, opened: Audiences hooted, so the studio switched from a serious, Oscar-friendly ad campaign to the jokey tag line ”No wire hangers — ever!” (If you have to ask what that means, you have even less sense of camp than Homer Simpson.) In doing so, Paramount sold short Faye Dunaway’s spectacularly risky, eruptive performance. Shrieking, weeping, boozing, rotting with rage, Dunaway’s Crawford isn’t out-of-control acting, but a fiercely thought-through depiction of an out-of-control person (in, it must be said, a pretty crummy movie). It’d be intriguing to hear the actress discuss her work, but you won’t find that — or any extras — on this bargain-bin release. For extras, check out instead the sharp-edged featurette on ”The Stepford Wives,” in which everyone gangs up on absent screenwriter William Goldman. It’s fun, and so is the movie, a silly/pleasurable take on female submissiveness, in which Katherine Ross and Paula Prentiss fear their perfect-wifey neighbors are being turned into robots. Too bad Ross seems like a bit of an automaton herself, or the transition might be scarier. Still, to view either movie is to feel nostalgia for an era when Hollywood movies dared to be weird. ”Mommie” Grade: C+; ”Stepford” Grade: B-

Mommie Dearest

type
  • Movie
mpaa
  • PG
runtime
  • 129 minutes
director
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