Cinema: Losing Face

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MOMMIE DEAREST Directed by Frank Perry Screenplay by Frank Yablans, Frank Perry, Tracy Hotchner and Robert Getchell

It is not easy being a working mother—especially if your boss happens to be Louis B. Mayer and your job category is movie star. It is especially not easy if one of your adopted children turns out to be the spoiled and charmless brat portrayed in this silly movie about the domestic life of Joan Crawford. The sympathy one is supposed to feel for the poor little rich waif (played at different ages by Mara Hobel and Diana Scarwid) slides away from her and onto the fashionably padded shoulders of the actress, whom Faye Dunaway's makeup artist, Lee C. Harman, gets just right. It was Crawford, after all, who had the career problems, the man problems, the drinking problem and, finally, the aging problem. That she sometimes lost her temper at home is hardly the stuff of tragedy, or even good melodrama. Yes, she occasionally raised her hand to her daughter. But thousands of children suffer far more terrible abuse every day—and don't have backyard swimming pools to soothe their feelings. Or get to write vindictive autobiographies that become bestsellers because Mommie Dearest was also Mommie Famous.

Lacking psychological intelligence or, for that matter, awareness of Hollywood sociology, Mommie Dearest is just a collection of screechy scenes further distanced by convictionless direction. Confronted by a movie without narrative tension or human interest, one is finally reduced to watching the paint dry—on Dunaway's face. —R.S.