Mommie Dearest's Lessons in Overly Dramatic Child Rearing

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Mommie Dearest (1981)

Ahead of Mother's Day this Sunday, we present five lessons to learn from Joan Crawford's less than orthodox parenting methods

“DON’T FUCK WITH ME FELLAS! This ain’t my first time at the rodeo,” roars Faye Dunaway in full Joan Crawford drag. She is, of course, playing the formidable Hollywood actress in one of the most famed performances of her career: a performance that was brow-raisingly wrong but simultaneously so very right. The 1981 cult classic Mommie Dearest, based on the tell-all biography written by Crawford’s adopted daughter Christina after her mother’s death, recounts the alleged coat hanger-centric abuse (more of that later) occurring behind the closed doors of the star’s Hollywood home, ‘The Most Beautiful House in Brentwood’.

The film itself was never intended to be comedic, yet Dunaway’s acting – a far cry from her seminal work in Chinatown – is so over the top that it is absolutely impossible to watch without multiple snorts of laughter. The camp factor was accentuated by bizarre plot holes, an abundance of suspicious nylon-looking hair and a script that coined several phrases remaining steadfast on the lips of anyone acquainted with this groundbreaking piece of contemporary cinema.

Subsequently, Mommie Dearest was panned upon its release, with Roger Ebert awarding it a single star, exclaiming that he “can’t imagine anyone who would want to subject themselves to this movie”. Well, we can – and we did, as a gentle reminder that it is in fact Mother’s Day this Sunday and you should be frantically ordering your hand-tied bouquets of flowers immédiatement. Alternatively, why not give your Mommie Dearest the greatest gift of all and send her a link to this article: for what could be a better present than a lesson in Joan Crawford’s excellent child rearing methods?

1. Give yourself a torturous facial every morning 
The opening scene of Mommie Dearest sets the tone of Crawford’s penchant for suffering via the showcasing of an extensive beauty routine that looks akin to actual torture. The actress frenetically scrubs her skin and nails with boiling hot water, whilst creating a lather from what could very well be a bar of Borax soap, before plunging her face into a large bowl of ice. She certainly isn’t all work and no play however, for she does set aside some time to shower with her lover (whose name escapes us, as men seem to appear at random moments throughout the film without much explanation as to where they came from or where they are going).

2. Domestic chores must be highly dramatic
Unfortunately for Christina, Joan’s perfectionism doesn’t stop at torturous facials. Her house-proud nature extends to a particularly violent run in with a bathroom floor and a box of detergent, which she uses to beat her daughter with whilst wailing “NOTHING IS CLEAN, THE WHOLE PLACE IS A MESS!” She then slithers away into the bedroom fully exhausted by her outburst, leaving a despondent Christina to wonder WTF just happened.

For those who have had the pleasure of watching Mommie Dearest, this point needs no explanation and you can feel free move onto the next. For those unfortunate souls who haven’t yet, we’ll return to our introductory mention of coat hanger based abuse and the coining of a cinematic phrase that truly embodies sartorial hysteria. Joan is absolutely livid upon entering Christina’s extensive closet of clothes to find that some of the child pageant-esque dresses she has been buying for her daughter are hung on WIRE HANGERS. “I buy you beautiful dresses and you treat them like they’re some dishrag! A $300 dress on a WIRE HANGER!” she shrieks, before entering into the aforementioned detergent rage. To be fair, she makes a valid point.

4. Take up gardening as a relaxing new hobby
When Joan is asked very politely to resign from MGM, she accepts her dismissal with all the grace and poise you might expect from a seasoned Hollywood star. This is, however, prior to her arrival back at home where she transforms into a garden shear-wielding maniac, treating her carefully planted roses with the kind of intensity that would make Alice in Wonderland’s antagonist proud. But this isn’t quite enough pruning for Miss Crawford, and she requires reinforced weaponry, calling out “TINA! BRING ME THE AXE,” before attacking the trunk of a small citrus tree.

5. Hair and brows should be groomed for the afterlife
The enduring Joan Crawford-esque eyebrows that the make up artist bestowed upon Faye Dunaway for Mommie Dearest could be likened to the shape of a slug practising advanced yoga. Her hair – which appears as though it has been coiffured into various follicular imitations of baked goods – remains completely unmovable through the film, even during a scene where she is vigorously jogging to keep up with her assistant’s car. And it must be said, when she lies in an open coffin after her death, her brows and hair still look fit for the gods. Although let’s be honest, it is highly likely that the psycho-biddy portrayed in the film ended up burning in the fires of hell for all eternity.