Review: ‘Mommy Dead And Dearest’

True crime may be the new public obsession. From the podcast “Serial” to multi-part docu-series Making a Murderer and The Jinx, people seem to enjoy learning more about the criminal mind. “Enjoy” may be too strong a word, but in the same realm that there are those who will consume police procedurals there are those who can’t get enough true crime. 

Death and taxes may be the only truths in life, but there is another thing about truth: It’s always stranger than fiction. Mommy Dead and Dearest, which ominously enough premiered on HBO the day after Mother’s Day, is a strange case of matricide. 

On June 14, 2015, Dee Dee Blanchard was found slain in her Springfield, Mo., bedroom, from multiple stab wounds. Her daughter, Gypsy Rose, was missing. No kidnapping occurred as the tool of social media offered inculpative evidence of Gypsy’s possible involvement in the killing. A Facebook posting on her page read “That B***h is dead.” The revelation came as a shock to the rest of the family. Gypsy lives her life confined to a wheelchair and speaks and interacts with a childlike mental capacity. At the time of trial she was twenty-four. She looks like a twelve-year-old girl. 

Actually, Gypsy lived confined to a wheelchair. Footage pulled from an interrogation room shows Gypsy standing and moving around. The wheelchair was a sham hatched by her mother. Ms. Blanchard also convinced Gypsy that she had cancer and other medical issues.

Here we are presented a classic case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP), where Ms. Blanchard was inventing illnesses for Gypsy as a means to attract sympathy or support. This included charity-sponsored trips to Disney World, where every girl is a princess and inside the Magic Kingdom happily-ever-after endings do exist. The motives behind Dee Dee’s reprehensible actions are not entirely clear, though family members would point to bi-polar disorder as a possibility as to why she would feign Gypsy as having leukemia, MS and a myriad of other medically diagnosed conditions that would see her in and out of hospitals more than 150 times.

Weeding through photos and home movies, and conducting interviews with Gypsy Rose, her lawyer, and Dee Dee’s nephew among others, director Erin Lee Carr presents an absorbing tale of confinement and matricide. Dee Dee is the villain in Mommy Dead and Dearest, which is understandable. She’s a complete monster. What kind of mother would inflict such mental and physical abuse on her daughter? The lengths Ms. Blanchard was willing to go to continue the charade included shaving Gypsy’s head and having a feeding food inserted.

But Dee Dee Blanchard’s murder was not a spontaneous act to liberate Gypsy from captivity; it was all pre-planned. Enter Gypsy’s boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, the one suspected and eventually found guilty of stabbing Dee Dee to death. The couple met online through a Christian dating website and the messages they would bounce back and forth go from inviting to lurid.

Less than an hour and a half in length, Carr’s follow-up to 2015’s Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop is a good documentary that seems incomplete. A little illumination in certain spots would have helped but this story of abuse that becomes ensnared in a murder mystery still lingers with me. Long after Mommy Dead and Dearest finishes you’ll be pondering about the murder and Gypsy Rose’s own deception. 

Director: Erin Lee Carr

Rating: TV-MA 

Running Time: 82 minutes


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