The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences will not have enough Emmys to hand out to the cast of Feud: Bette vs. Joan when the awards are presented this fall. The mini series aired over 8 weeks on FX Network. Every aspect of this production needs to be honored in some way.
In case you didn’t watch it, Feud: Bette vs. Joan recounts the relationship between two of classic Hollywood’s biggest actresses, Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange). The mini-series explored the history of their individual careers, their family lives, their love lives and most importantly the true root causes of the hostility between the women. My review a few weeks back includes more background.
The producers and writers of Feud (Jaffe Cohen, Ryan Murphy, and Michael Zam) made a great decision to delve into the psyches of these two strong women, which ultimately made this project the success that it is. This allowed the audience to get to know these women as if they were our distant relatives or even our friends. The script writers’ exceptional work displayed how their insecurities caused more issues between them and in their lives, than the roles or the men they competed for through the years. They also
showed how the men who ran the studios and the gossip writers used the tension to sell the movie. The writers gave every member of this cast and crew something to work with. We can just hand the writers, producers, and director their Emmys and Golden Globes now.
This leads us to the outstanding performances by everyone in front of the camera. Watching Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange act against each other is like attending a fine arts seminar. These ladies weren’t acting, they were channeling their counterparts from the uniqueness of their walks to their speech pattern; everything about them said Bette and Joan. The last episodes’ focus on Joan Crawford’s declining health allowed Jessica Lange to illustrate just how talented she is. Those scenes were heartbreaking and Lange did not miss a beat. These will be the scenes submitted during awards season. For Sarandon, her submittal scenes start the first time she appears on the screen and speaks with all of Bette’s mannerisms and voice pattern. When Sarandon makes her entrance on the set in her Baby Jane costume, she is every ounce the spectacle she needed to be. Best Actress in a Mini-series is a dead heat, and I would hate to have to choose between Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, as both ladies clearly deserve an Emmy for the work they did on this project.
The Best Supporting Actor Categories will be flooded with actors/actresses from this cast. Leading the pack for the actresses is Catherine Zeta Jones as Olivia de Havilland. Her transformation was more than hair and makeup, she got de Haviland’s accent correct. Other contenders, Jackie Hoffman, as Crawford’s loyal maid Mamacita, Judy Davis as flamboyant gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, or Kiernan Shipka as B.D. Hyman; any of them could take the award home. I’d add Kathy Bates as Joan Blondell or Molly Price as Harriet Aldrich but they may be edged out by the other ladies aforementioned. Whatever emotion or reaction the scene called for, they all provided it effortlessly. For the actors, Dominic Burgess as Victor Buono, Stanely Tucci as Jack Warner, or Alfred Molina as Bob Aldrich. Their performances held up against the power that all these women brought to the screen.
The set designs and art direction transported me to every location. From the sets of Whatever Happen to Baby Jane, to Bette and Joan’s homes, I am not sure they could have done any better short of filming in the actual places. The houses were opulent and 100% authentic to the 60s when the film takes place.
FX produced the perfect mini-series: it had all the elements a compelling story, larger than life characters, and took the time to build the story that kept you coming back for more. The next rainy weekend day I may watch it again on On Demand.
5 Emmys out of 5.