Documentary Review: MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST (2018)

Before I go to sleep each night, I can usually be found in bed reading articles on Buzzfeed and Cracked as a way to relax. Most of these times, I’m taking mindless quizzes to see what food best describes me as a person based on my zodiac sign, but every so often, an article pops up that captures my attention. Last year, an article such as this came across my screen about a daughter who had her mother murdered and the dark and disturbing secret life they led. From the moment I read that article, I became transfixed about the story of Gypsy Rose and her mother Dee Dee, and it became quite apparent I wasn’t the only one.

Last week, HBO released a documentary titled, MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST, from director Erin Lee Carr, detailing the life of Gypsy Rose and the horror’s that her mother Dee Dee inflicted upon her. It’s a harrowing look into the deceptions and lies that Dee Dee was capable of, as well as an examination into Munchausen by Proxy syndrome and how the system failed a young girl who was only looking to escape the clutches of her mom.

I watched MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST a few weeks back and to this day I’m still stuck on what the right words are to say about such a tragic and horrific story. Even though I had already read the think-piece chronicling the story, it was much more emotional to see it played out on screen. I learned very early on in the documentary that Dee Dee was a very sick individual who suffered tremendously from mental illness. To me, it seemed she lived off the attention given to her by others which only fueled the Munchausen by Proxy fire. Her daughter eventually became her pawn, using Gypsy Rose to receive accolades, trips, housing, etc from the web of lies that she spun about how sick Gypsy was. In the end, all the surgeries and feeding tubes and diagnosis’ were a lie, Gypsy was never sick to begin with.

As for Gypsy herself, it’s hard to say that I blame her for what she did. The documentary showcases how the support and help she needed wasn’t there. It even highlighted how police officers were called to the house on abuse allegations only to be turned away and told that things were fine. Gypsy even ran away at one point, only to be found hours later by her mother and knowing the consequences for her actions would be dire. When the system has failed you, and you are living a life of constant abuse, what options are there left? We will never be able to step into the shoes of Gypsy Rose and who are we to judge for what she has done? Who’s to say we wouldn’t do the same if we were the ones in the same situation.

Director Erin Lee Carr does a tremendous job of weaving together the narratives from Dee Dee’s past, Gypsy’s life, and those involved during the murder and the aftermath of chaos that ensued. She handles the subject matter with grace and respect while giving us the facts and not shying away from some of the less desirable aspects. Most notably, the relationship that Gypsy Rose had with her boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn. Nicholas is responsible for carrying out the murder at the request of Gypsy Rose and is another example of someone who fell through the cracks within the system. Along with murdering Dee Dee, Nicholas was also physically and emotionally abusive towards Gypsy. He considers himself severely mentally ill and it was later revealed that he was diagnosed with autism. I can’t help but wonder if had Nicholas received the proper help that he needed, if the outcome to all of this would have been different.

Overall, MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST is one of the best and most intense documentaries I have seen and it is sure to evoke a range of emotions and opinions from all that view it. It’s heartbreaking and upsetting to see everything that Gypsy Rose was subjected to by her mother as well as Nicholas, along with the feeling of hopelessness towards her feeling like a prisoner in her home. The documentary also focuses on the damaging effects of what can happen when mental illness is not treated or documented, which I think needs to be talked about way more often than it is. Though this is not a film that will leave you feeling happy at the end, it will help in raising awareness and get people talking long after the credits have rolled.

Shannon McGrew
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