Overview: Provocative documentarian Erin Lee Carr (Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop) again explores a crime in the age of social media. Things are not always as they appear, especially in the case of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose, and what starts out as a grisly tale of matricide morphs into a rabbit hole of deception. Child abuse, mental illness and forbidden love converge in this mystery of a mother and daughter who were thought to be living a fairy tale life that turned out to be a living nightmare. It is a disturbing, first-hand look at this bizarre case and explores one of psychology’s most controversial conditions: Munchausen by proxy syndrome.
Expectations: I just don’t know where this documentary is going to go. It is truly a true-crime story mystery which makes it all that more compelling to want to watch. This is one of those films that I intentionally starved myself of the background information as not to spoil the case as it unfolds over an hour and twenty-three minutes. Only the briefest of overview and the cryptic trailer was enough information for me to hook me right in.
Yeah, that trailer doesn’t really tell us much going in except that Gypsy was sickly, her mother was her caregiver, the sheriff telling us of a big deception that played out and that Gypsy is accused of murder. Just what went down that caused such a big buzz as this documentary comes to light? We’ll find out.
Gut Reaction: Interesting, very, very interesting. It is a true-crime story to top all the many you’ve seen over the years. The nature of the human animal just amazes, doesn’t it? You begin all this focusing on Gypsy, this poor, ill child that her immediate world has felt sorry for and has showered with charity and good wishes while her loving, caring mother nurses her every need. We hear of diagnosis and ailment one after another afflicted on her. But, at first, that is not what we see. The opening scenes are of the security camera in the local sheriff’s office interrogating Gypsy as he questions her about the murder of her mother, Dee Dee. Wait, she seems much older and she is pacing back and forth with no wheelchair in sight. What led us to here?
And off we go into the story, into the background of this mother-daughter relationship like no other. It appears the real Gypsy & Dee Dee are nothing like the personas we were shown. It was all a lie! I hate to spoil the tale here but as this documentary unravels we find that Gypsy is not an invalid at all, but a tool for fraud so that her mother could reap the benefits of free gifts and free trips. What I won’t spoil, for those who have not seen the film yet, is to what depths Dee Dee goes to in order to keep the ruse going. Mind you, doing it while manipulating doctors, family and neighbors.
Every turn in this story will surprise you as it builds. Finally, the abuse is enough to find drastic means to end it. The plot to do so is revealed as a boyfriend enters the picture. We also see him first in the interrogation room. What transpires is a behind the mother’s back relationship that ends up in the stabbing death of Dee Dee, the fleeing of the suspects, their arrest and Gypsy’s time before the judge. To make the story more complete filmmaker Carr seeks out Dee Dee’s family and Gypsy’s father to hear their side of the story and more importantly, hears from Gypsy herself in a prison interview. It is a story like no other.
Bonus: Here is a portion of a Q&A with Erin Lee Carr.
HBO: Was there anything you discovered when uncovering this story that shocked or surprised you?
Erin Lee Carr: One thing I really wish was in the film is that Dee Dee and Gypsy slept in the same bed. Every night. She was supposedly eighteen; she wasn’t eighteen, she was twenty-three. This house was like a dream — it didn’t make any sense.
HBO: Like you say in the film, she fell through every crack in the system. There were doctors that flagged Gypsy’s case. How did this happen?
Erin Lee Carr: You have a mom and a daughter in a wheelchair; the mom who is really friendly, bubbly, and is asking questions. Dee Dee fashioned herself as this ultimate caregiver so she would not be suspected. This is somebody who was really good at a con. I do take a lot of issue with the ways the doctors and hospitals handled themselves — but that woman fooled everyone.
HBO: Do you think Gypsy will have the support she needs when she’s released from prison?
Erin Lee Carr: She has more support than we could hope for. Rod and Christy, her dad and stepmom, could have so easily been like, “Nope, we can’t do it, there was violence that happened here, we have children,” but the amount of forgiveness and compassion they’ve shown Gypsy is amazing. She has a very strong support group.
I worry about her intellectually and psychologically. She’s dealt with serious, serious trauma. It’s gonna be a tough seven years. I want to continue being thoughtful about what happens to this woman after the movie’s done.
In Conclusion: I didn’t go into all the specifics here because I just want readers of this post to gets the answers from the documentary itself. For example, Munchausen by proxy syndrome is a key element of the piece and if you don’t know what it is the film will explain. This is truly a unique case and truly one that was well addressed by MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST. By film’s end, it may also raise the question of what was the true crime here. Which was worse the murder of Dee Dee or the years of abuse she afflicted on Gypsy? You decide.
Next: On June 6 is the debut of IF YOU ARE NOT IN THE OBIT, EAT BREAKFAST which is a look at the vitality of the over-90 crowd.