FX ‘Feud’ series tells Bette-Joan story

Posted April 5, 2017


Smoke drips down the top of the mirror, stemming from the lit cigarette of Bette Davis, but the focus isn’t on the over-the-hill actress (played by Oscar winner Susan Sarandon) who wears ridiculous white makeup and cherry red lipstick.

Your attention snaps to the intense stand-off as Davis peers into the very soul of her rival, Joan Crawford (played by Oscar and Golden Globe winner Jessica Lange), standing just behind her.

This staring contest epitomizes the pure hatred and rivalry that blossoms from the two aging actresses fight to stay relevant in the FX original series “Feud: Bette and Joan.” FX, which has progressively increased its program quality thanks to shows like “Atlanta” or “Fargo,” has succeeded in doing so with “Feud.”

One of Hollywood’s greatest feuds, the series concentrates on the escalation of the strained relationship and the many intricate people who were a part of it. Furthermore, the show focuses on the men who capitalized on the two Hollywood heavyweights fight and the negative aspects that can come from hatred rather than respect, which makes for great television.

At the helm of “Feud” is the FX showrunner Ryan Murphy. Murphy has been at the forefront for such FX originals as “American Horror Story” and “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” which have led to multiple Emmys for both the anthology series and the mini-series.

The first three episodes of “Feud” (with Murphy directing the first two) detail the procurement, making and wrap of the film “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”

As a film enthusiast, the first episode and the cinematography really captured my attention. This was especially true when Joan was looking for a project early on. The cameras, instead of following

Lange and her housekeeper, Mamacita (played by Second City veteran and comedian Jackie Hoffman), follow the books and scripts, as they get passed down from storekeeper, to housekeeper to veteran Hollywood megastar.

Eventually Crawford finds “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” and presents it to director Robert Aldrich (played by British Actor Alfred Molina). Aldrich juggles the act of handling both Crawford and Davis, who signs on later as the titular character of the movie, in a cautious yet caring way. In both women, he not only sees their greatness, but caters to their needs playing the role of husband, supporting and encouraging each, despite the women’s strenuous relationship.

Aldrich is able to find funding for the movie through Jack Warner (played by Oscar-nominated actor Stanley Tucci), despite the studio head’s rocky relationships with the women (including an affair with Crawford). Tucci, while given minimal air time, is fantastic. His portrayal of a manipulative movie executive, feasting on the strain and anguish the two women have between each other in real life and on screen, is tantalizing.

Tucci forces Molina’s character to add to the already burning fire raging away between the two women, not only to get buzz around the 1962 horror film (around the time when Hitchcock was releasing “Pyscho” and “Vertigo”), but to permit the actresses to allow that hate to seep into their artwork. Thus, creating something not just great, but award-winning.

Lange and Sarandon play two totally different women, but both at peak performance. From Lange, we see strength, fight and bitterness etched within the elder Crawford, embodying her scramble to stay relevant in one of the world’s most vapid cities. She portrays an actress who has constantly struggled and only just achieved everything she has desired, yet, she still has to fight, even for the picture, in order to maintain that everything.

She is not without her vices. Her alcoholism, constant gossiping and slight slandering of Bette to tabloid writer Hedda Hopper (played by Emmy and Golden Globe Winner Judy Davis), emphasize this.

Furthermore, Lange captures the emotions of an empty-nester perfectly as her twin daughters leave for summer camp and another daughter, who has grown up, opens a show on Broadway. I am eagerly anticipating to see how Lange’s loneliness translates into the rest of the series and adds to Crawford’s tremendous reluctance to leave the limelight.

Sarandon plays the more grounded and pretentious Davis in a way that not only captures the original actress’s talent and maturity, but her unique charm and dominating presence as well. Sarandon also uses a tough exterior, looking for the best of everything, her co-star, herself and even her own daughter. Yet, like Lange, she can let the audience sympathize with her, presenting someone who has more burden to bear then at first glance.

The rapport between the two stars is mesmerizing. Even when they are polite to each other, there is always a hint of revulsion. While filming a scene for the movie in which Davis’s character gets to kick Crawford, Davis’s sarcastic whit epitomizes the true distaste held between the women.

Crawford sobs quietly while appealing to the rest of the crew, truly making Davis seem terrible. This, however, occurred after Crawford had said slanderous things of Davis in the gossip column of the newspaper, thus putting both women on an even pedestal made of loathing.

I am excited to see how the five remaining episodes of the eight-episode season will expand upon the feud and the complex lives of the two famous actresses. Murphy’s deconstruction and presentation of the feud is a rare jewel of art in the hay stack of convoluted content that lives on TV and one that separates itself through its pronounced acting, nostalgic visuals and true story plot.

  • TV Program Title —  “Feud: Bette and Joan”
  • Cable Provider —  FX
  • Length — 60 minutes
  • Show Time — Sundays 10 p.m.
  • Main Cast — Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis, Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford, Alfred Molina as Robert Aldrich, Jackie Hoffman as Mamacita and Stanley Tucci as Jack Warner
  • TV Rating — MA for mature audiences
  • Review Rating — 3 out of 4 stars