Review - Mommy Dead and Dearest
By midlandsmovies, Jun 25 2017 05:30PM
Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017) Erin Lee Carr
What would you do to maintain control of your child? Well, this new documentary explores that and other dark themes in the true life story of the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard. Stabbed to death, the accused is her own daughter, Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who for years has been confined to a wheelchair and has a host of debilitating ailments including cancer, gastric issues and developmental problems.
The film begins with real-life footage from a police interview room – similar to Beware the Slenderman – and again, coming from the UK, these scenes alone are shocking in their candour. Being questioned by a forthright officer is a young girl with short hair who is told her mother is dead. And it is here we first get a glimpse into the strangeness of this case.
Carr infuses her film with some immediate facts but allows the mystery surrounding these to be unveiled slowly. First up, we hear reactions from friends who are shocked to find the girl accused of homicide. Secondly is the more surprising revelation (to them) that the girl they’ve known for years is not paralysed and can actually walk.
Diagnosing a serious case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy (a condition where a carer induces health problems in those they are looking after) a doctor recalls his diagnosis of the mother who it is revealed kept her (very healthy) daughter in a state of constant medication. As multiple surgical visits and even invasive operations occur, we empathise with Gypsy's situation as we begin to comprehend the disturbing proof uncovered.
As the film continues, Carr explores the deep dark secrets of a mother and child relationship that was fused by a dominating parent who goes too far in order to preserve her power. As Dee Dee lies to the authorities and to doctors, the film’s personal connection actually arrives in the form of Gypsy Rose’s estranged father and step-mum who are shown aghast at the horrors unfolding in front of them. As a lawyer explains the medical records he’s got access to, they recoil in visible shock at the 100+ visits the fraudulent mother took her healthy daughter to in order to sustain her sham.
With another feature length documentary (Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop, 2015) under her belt, Carr can not only create an arresting narrative in her work, but chooses her subjects carefully for stories to leave an audience astonished. Here, we are never truly sure who to believe as even the sympathy gained for the alleged perpetrator is questioned with the inclusion of an eccentric and dangerous boyfriend met on the internet. In addition, the film presents a scheming mother talented in the art of deception and begins to ask whether her daughter has perhaps inherited this horrifying gift.
The documentary concludes in a standard fashion as it reaches its end but it is the juxtaposition of interesting witnesses, side tales and the natural twists and turns of a barely believable and surreal story that kept my interest up. Tackling the lofty subject matter of neglect and child abuse alongside the mystery of a murder case, Mommy Dead and Dearest is terrifying yet very honest in its portrayal of the depths of dishonesty.
Midlands Movies Mike