I wanted to write a review last week about FXX Feud: Bette and Joan, however, I needed to temper my excitement with part 1 with the question: Was it going to continue into part 2?
I felt my discussion of the series should not be tainted by my eagerness for the project in general. Heck, what was there not to love about this: an 8-part miniseries set during the production of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” one of my favorite films. The series chronicles the animosity between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, two of my favorite old Hollywood actresses, while exploring the personal lives of Davis and Crawford and how those events became intertwined with the movie’s production. I wondered if Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange would continue to deliver the performances required for these larger than life personalities. Well, after watching the first two installments I am clamoring for the rest.
Just a little background: in classic Hollywood Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were two of its biggest star. The hostility between them started almost as soon as Davis arrived in Hollywood in 1930. Crawford had been building her career since the mid 20’s and saw Davis’ arrival as a threat. Throughout their careers, they were competing for the best roles and for men. There was even a period when all the roles that cast Crawford had been previously turned down by Davis.
They only worked together once, on the now classic horror film, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.” At the time the movie was filmed both Oscar winning actresses were trying to find work when all the movie roles were for “ingenues, matrons, and gorgons” as stated by Crawford in episode 1. Davis and Crawford still wanted to be the leading lady and these were not the roles being offered. Crawford had not worked in a few years and Davis had been relegated to Broadway but “Baby Jane” was the project that would bring both actresses to the forefront. Even with her feelings towards Davis, it was Crawford who suggested her for the movie. As shown in Feud: Bette and Joan everyone from the director and writers to the actresses involved in this project were in the valley of their careers and needed a success. To top it off the people around them exploited their insecurities and the hostility between the actresses for promotion and for the films production.
Ryan Murphy the producer/director has packed so much into the first two hours of this miniseries that I could go on and on. He has not made a misstep yet. The sets are perfection, there is nothing missing from this 60s mansions and back-lots the movie is set in. The episodes also feel as if they were shot in the 60s due to the camera angles and how the colors are muted. The writing is excellent and all the performers involved have been given fantastic dialogue to work with.
So, what can I say about Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis? When I saw the promo photos for this I was floored by how completely these ladies had been transformed into character. It’s more than makeup and hair color, Lange and Sarandon bring these women back to life: it’s in their postures, their walks, even in the set of their mouths when they talk, how they have captured their accents and diction. Paraphrasing something I saw in my Twitter feed, we are watching a master’s class in acting with this production.
The supporting cast is giving it their all too with Catherine Zeta-Jones as Olivia de Havilland and Kathy Bates as Joan Blondell – two of Davis and Crawford’s closest friends – who provide some of the background and the transitions throughout the show. Judy Davis as gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper is perfectly opportunistic and catty and Alfred Molina is wonderful as Robert Aldrich, Baby Jane‘s beleaguered director trying to find his next hit. Stanley Tucci, Jackie Hoffman, Alison Wright and Kiernan Shipka are making the most of their cameos. These actors are nothing short of brilliant as they honor the individuals they are playing.
Feud: Bette and Joan is primed for the 2017 award season, I see nominations in all categories later this year. Episodes 1 and 2 are available On Demand with new episodes airing at 10 P.M. on Sundays on FXX. Take some time to catch up and join the fun.