Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 22 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Erin Lee Carr
Starring: Gypsy Rose Blanchard, Michael Stanfield, Rob Blanchard, Kristy Blanchard, Dan Patterson, Linda Ong, Bobby Pitre, Bernardo Flasterstein, Marc Feldman, Jim Arnott & Michelle Dean
It’s no secret that HBO has stellar documentaries. The channel aired a tell-all exposure of Scientology with GOING CLEAR and they helped put a monster behind bars in THE JINX. Their latest doc, MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST, examines the bizarre murder of Dee Dee Blanchard by her daughter Gypsy Rose. The case was brutal and premeditated, but there was an even more disturbing backstory that led up to the violent crime. A mystery erupted as soon as Gypsy walked in the courtroom…when she was supposedly wheelchair-bound. I hesitate to reveal much more, because this documentary dives into a tragic and twisted true-crime case that will leave your emotions reeling long after you watch it.
MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST slowly reveals a big web of mysteries, some of which will never receive concrete answers. This film tries its damndest to answer the tough questions that it can cover though, through many interviews (with relatives, friends, and Gypsy herself) alongside archive footage. These latter bits provide what appear to be innocent home movies, but are actually something far darker (as a closer analysis reveals). Innocent clips like Gypsy playing in the snow and a trip to Disneyland all take on more profound meanings, once the viewer knows damn well what’s going on behind closed doors.
Director Erin Lee Carr (who previously tackled in the “cannibal cop” case in THOUGHT CRIMES) uses a bevy of interviewees giving their thoughts and experiences. The most interesting of these is obviously Gypsy Rose, who handles herself remarkably well in front of a camera and offers emotional (possibly manipulative) insights. In describing her love for Disney movies and TANGLED (a story that bears a resemblance to her life), Gypsy states “Life is not a fairy tale. I learned that the hard way.” The viewer will probably find themselves feeling more sympathy for this criminal than they initially expect.
Besides Gypsy, other interesting players in this case are focused on. These include the disturbing figure of Nicholas Godejohn (who had severe issues long before he met Gypsy) and Gypsy’s deceptive mother Dee Dee (who we’re told about through disgruntled relatives and revealing medical notes). One of the documentary’s more heartbreaking points of interest is Gypsy’s father (who was divorced from Dee Dee and left in the dark). One climactic scene between him, his wife, and an incarcerated Gypsy provides a deeply moving final note to end on.
The film’s only nagging flaw comes in the inclusion of Buzzfeed reporter Michelle Dean. She has nothing of real value to contribute to the discussion and I have no idea why the director bothered focusing on her opinions. This journalist seemed to be constantly repeating herself in different words and frankly, was a little too happy to be talking about this true crime case. Her constant ear-to-ear grinning and uncontrollable excitement seemed out-of-place and borderline distasteful given the subject matter.
For true crime buffs, MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST offers a detailed look at a fascinating murder case that might flip your emotions in ways you didn’t expect. The beginning of this documentary had me feeling one way and its powerful conclusion left me with mixed feelings/loyalties. It’s a complicated look at an already complex case and there are no easy answers, but the film is likely to leave the viewer satisfied and walking away with their own opinion on the matter. The archive footage adds an extra creepiness to the disturbing subject matter, while the talking head interviews are 99% effective (minus the Buzzfeed reporter). Overall, MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST is a competently made true-crime documentary that is well worth a watch!