Parenthood is the trickiest of crafts. Every hope that one’s children will grow up to be their own true selves is shadowed by the urge to yell, ”Be just like me!” The potter’s clay has a personality: Lay the hands on gently and the resulting vase could turn out to have a strong and unexpected shape. Throw it too hard, and it warps and fractures.
Gypsy, the big-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, errs on the other side: Tomboy-turned-stripper Gypsy Rose Lee (Natalie Wood) at long last blasts her overbearing Mama Rose (Rosalind Russell) — then, as if nothing had happened, gives her a big hug in time for the end credits.
The way Gypsy views its monster with alternating affection and loathing may in fact be the more honest approach; it’s just that Russell is impossible to take. Part of this is the character, a neurotic meddler determined that her daughter be the star she never was. But Russell is so grating, so convinced her role is another high-flying Auntie Mame, that she sends the movie off the rails. Only when Mama Rose sings ”Everything’s Coming Up Roses” — with Sondheim’s deceptively sunny lyrics — does Russell seem to clue in to the woman’s deluded optimism. C+