MOMMIE DEAREST -- At the AMC Carrollton, Dupont Circle, Flower Twins, Hampton Mall, K-B Baronet West, K-B Cerberus, NTI Buckingham, Roth's Americana, Roth's Tysons Corner, Showcase Fair City Mall and Village Mall.
What do you expect when you deliberately go for a wallow into a picture promising a peek at a star's private life? Psychological insight? In "Mommie Dearest," Faye Dunaway looks like Joan Crawford, wears 50 Irene Sharaff costumes representing four decades, lives in an Art Deco house with terrific closets, and regularly produces outbursts of imaginative hysteria. It's fancy trash. Isn't that enough? It's for audiences who are prepared to view with amusement the excesses of the Crawford-Dunaway mouth and the orders that shoot out of it. Looking, in a cold-creamed face and gash of lipsick, as if she were wearing a Noh mask, Dunaway screams at her sleeping blond tot for hanging one of the child's many $300 dresses on a wire hanger. A preview audience here howled. But with this receptive attitude, one is bound to reverse the intention of Christina Crawford, the daughter who wrote the book about being adopted and abused by a star, and come out rooting for that star against Little Miss Butter-Wouldn't-Melt-in-Her- Mouth. There's no motivation for the regular alternation of loving and hysterical scenes in the picture except that Mommie was nuts or that a resentful child makes a bad reporter. One such outburst follows a career disappointment, but another comes after she receives an Academy Award. The only explanation offered is that she "wanted everything to be perfect," as if keeping the house neat and teaching the children to behave considerately to others were a recognized route to mental disease. Eliminating the grandstand scenes, Joan Crawford is depicted in the film as putting motherhood above everything, but also finally having a good marriage, expecting of herself the standards she set for others, working rigorously at her career and mustering the fighting spirit to come back when shabbily treated. Taking the Christina character at face value, one can't help seeing, even in the prissiness of Mara Hobel as the child and tight-lipped Diana Scarwid as the adult Christina, that she exhibits the determination, self-reliance, gracious public behavior and even the love that her mother tried to instill. Bouncing back from the blow of being cut out of Joan Crawford's will, the daughter recoups by a sensational expose. I