Erin Lee Carr (Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop) confesses the beginning of her second HBO documentary stemmed from her obsession with how and what people say and do on the Internet. Inevitably when Carr heard about a woman who posted on Facebook after killing her own mother writing, “The bitch is dead!” this piqued the filmmaker’s interest.
This initial virtual confession led to far more than a public display of morbid celebration and guilt, but to a web of mystery, fraud, abuse, and systemic failings unfolding as we delve deeper into the real story.
Mommy Dead and Dearest is a chilling true crime documentary about the murder of Dee Dee Blancharde and her daughter Gypsy Rose. After years of appearing as a mother-daughter team wherein Gypsy was confined to a wheelchair and claimed to have a cornucopia of medical ailments such as leukemia, MS, and mental retardation, the truth comes to light when we see her being interviewed in police custody. Gypsy can stand, walk, and is not suffering from her previously claimed illnesses.
On its face the story seems to be simply about plain ol’ deception. Two women working in cahoots with one another in order to receive disability cheques, free trips to Disneyland, and even a Habitat for Humanity house painted blush pink.
But the story is much deeper, and darker, than that.
Gypsy Rose Blancharde was born into a different world than most. A world wherein her mother’s influence and grasp infiltrated every nook and cranny of Gypsy’s existence. Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) is a form of child abuse wherein the parent or primary caregiver will either fabricate or induce medical symptoms or illnesses in their child to gain attention. Gypsy Rose was subjected to twenty plus years of being medicated, receiving multiple surgeries, forcibly fed through a tube, mentally abused, physically tortured, and ultimately help captive by her mother.
Mommy Dead and Dearest features a woman who lived in a prison, a kind of fantasy nightmare where Gypsy’s only escape was fairy tales and Disney films. Her reality was formed by a master manipulator who somehow was able to fool and scam medical professionals, charities, family members, and even law enforcement into believing she was doing what was best for her child.
Gypsy took to the internet to find her Prince Charming and that’s when we find one Nicholas Godejohn who had his own set of circumstances to overcome. The two star-crossed lovers conceive of a plan to get rid of the wicked witch.
Where Mommy Dead and Dearest intrigues most is not in the unfolding of the gruesome details, but rather as a documentary by posing several questions to its audience: Can we trust Gypsy Rose now that she’s out from under her mother’s thumb? How was this abuse able to go on for so long without anyone taking notice? What kind of person is created out of this kind of environment?
These questions, as well as the realities of this situation, are equally as challenging and dark.
Sun, Apr 30 9:30 PM @ Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Mon, May 1 1:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sat, May 6 8:45 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Mommy Dead and Dearest also premieres May 15 on HBO Canada.
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