For Mother’s Day, join us for “’Mommie Dearest’ Looking for Girls”

Supergirl: the movie

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend of diving into adjacent queer and queer past titles worth watching or revisiting.

Flying Turkey: Supergirl

“And that’s pretty much where the movie starts to fall apart, with the introduction of Faye Dunaway as a mysterious fortune teller, and the even less fortunate introduction of Brenda Vaccaro as her sidekick.” The relationship between the two women reminds me of Mommie Dearest looking for girls. —Roger Ebert, in his review of Supergirl

What, you thought we would recommend Mommie Dearest for Mother’s Day? Please give us more credit than that. We’re not sure anyone should ever watch this movie, even as a camp movie.

For a Mommie Dearest-style campfest without child exploitation, on the other hand, we bring you this forgotten mega-production from 1984 which also features all-consuming sets of Faye Dunaway. Supergirl was meant to revive the kind of superhero that fades away by (gasping) throwing a woman in the lead. The film follows Kara Zor-El (Helen Slater), Superman’s cousin who, along with her parents (Mia Farrow and Simon Ward), survived the destruction of Krypton by hiding in a pocket universe called Argo City. The colony, overseen by sage Zaltar (an alcoholic Peter O’Toole), is powered by an Omegahedron, a high-tech orb of pure energy.

When Kara accidentally loses the Omegaedron, she traces it back to Earth. There, a struggling witch named Selena (Dunaway) and her assistant Bianca (Brenda Vaccaro) discover the Omegaedron and conspire to use her powers for (what else) to take over the world. When Kara arrives, she takes on the dual identity of high school student Linda Lee / Supergirl in the hopes of finding the Omegaedron, defeating Selena, and saving her people. Oh, and sure enough, she meets a school gardener (Hart Bochner), who becomes the object of Kara and Selena’s affections.

In the lead role, Slater gives a winning and courageous performance that shows how good Supergirl really could have been. Dunaway, on the other hand, growls and yells in the film, playing to the far ranks of Yankee Stadium. Vaccaro seems to be having fun as his floozy sidekick, and their relationship seems designed for bitchy laughs. Roger Ebert was right: all this movie needed was Selena fighting Supergirl with a hanger.

In fact, it took a lot more than that. As a movie, Supergirl is a mess, but not boring. Slater delivers a hell of a good lead performance considering what she’s had to work with and as such is having a great time. Dunaway appears to be playing Joan Crawford playing Selena, which could be the reason why she comes across as a polishing drag queen. Vaccaro is doing better, only because she seems to know which movie she is in.

Weird, campy, hideous, but with a terrific foreground performance from Slater, we suggest Supergirl instead of Mommie Dearest this Mother’s Day. He has the same level of campy laughter, but without the kidding.

Streams on HBO Max, Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, and VUDU.

One final note: Supergirl is available in both its 105-minute theatrical version and an extended 124-minute version. We suggest you watch the latter (which appears to be streaming on Amazon), as it contains several scenes that clarify the plot and the relationships between the characters.

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