Mommie Dearest at 40: the derided camp classic that deserves a closer look

Faye Dunaway’s all-guns-blazing performance as Joan Crawford is one of many reasons why the reviled biodrama is not the disaster many have labelled itThe first time I saw Mommie Dearest, it was probably closer to its 20th anniversary than its 40th, and it had already been firmly canonised as a camp classic: at the scruffy repertory screening I attended, with an audience of predominantly gay men, the conspiratorial giggles started as early as the opening credits, and scarcely let up for two hours.

In advance of the film’s hysterical high points — Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, her face greased up with ghostly night cream, beating her daughter with a clothes hanger, or growling for an axe as she drunkenly decimates her rose garden — the giggles escalated to hoots of anticipatory delight, exploding so loudly and gleefully at the climax that I almost couldn’t hear the line everyone was there for: “No!

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