By Kelli Green
Last week’s s episode of Ryan Murphy’s series, FEUD: Bette and Joan, was an explosive mid-point for this season focused on the legendary actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
This hour-long drama appeals to two primary audiences. There are the big Davis and Crawford fans who tune in to see the drama they’ve read about for years unfold. They gather with their friends and point out familiar details like the William Haines designs in Crawford’s home; or the famously shocking and slightly humorous“ Job Wanted” advertisement, Davis posted following a fall out with her agent.
Then there are the new fans, who tuned into this new show without prior knowledge of its main subjects. Perhaps they were American Horror Story or Glee fans following Murphy to his new project, maybe they were fans of Susan Sarandon, or Jessica Lange, ready to see the talented ladies give whatever they had to offer or maybe they were just curious after seeing it advertised
Either way, Feud is exciting for a range of watchers. The first half of the series covers the process of making the 1962 horror/thriller, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The viewers get a glimpse into what it was like to make a movie in 1960’s Hollywood, especially for two aging female actors.
The show exposes the sexism and ageism in Hollywood at that time. Davis and Crawford have a hard time being taken seriously or finding work they actually like due to their age, and their sex; even though Hollywood men their age were still getting roles they found themselves pushed aside in favor of younger actresses.
In the show one of the men working on the film even suggested that they keep Crawford and Davis in their roles but tell the story from the point of view of the sexy young neighbor girl. He was ready to completely rehash the story just to push a younger girl up front and the older actresses to the back.
Feud touches on sexism in a few different ways. Jack Warner, the studio giant played by Stanley Tucci, is often seen behaving chauvinistically towards women. In his first appearance, he reduces the question of Davis and Crawford’s ability to carry the film to a question of whether or not Robert Aldrich, the director played by Alfred Molina, wanted to sleep with them, as if appearing “screw-able” is even a fraction of what it takes to make a movie.
Pauline Jameson, as played by Allison Wright, is a fictional character created to represent women behind the cameras in the 50’s and 60’s. Jameson is Aldrich’s assistant, and a composite of several women including, Aldrich’s real-life assistant, Geraldine Hershey.Hershey was a huge part in the making of Baby Jane, she’s the one that showed Aldrich the script and, much like Jameson, remained positive about the film all the way through production even when others were doubting it’s possible success.
Like Hershey, Jameson’s character doesn’t get the recognition she deserves. In the 4th episode of the season, Jameson finds it difficult to gain support as an aspiring female director, despite the fact that she is clearly talented.
Feud is a beautiful series, from the period appropriate costume and set design to the wonderful actors. Molina does a great job as the hopeful and conflicted director, Aldrich trying to prove himself. Tucci’s portrayal of Warner is energetic; he never seems far away from popping a blood vessel, and he delivers every vulgar and insensitive line with ease.
Lange brings that familiar intensity and energy to the ever controversial and complicated Crawford. She is able to reveal insecurity and show her teeth with an almost seamless switch. With the lies and cattiness, Lange’s performance as an effortless manipulator is reminiscent of Crawford’s character Crystal Allen in The Women (1939), while also matching most scathing reports of Crawford’s real life. Which begs the question was Crawford acting or just projecting? As soon as you begin to feel sympathy for Crawford, she does something sneaky and the roller coaster takes off again. Lange, used to playing powerful characters on the edge of exploding, keeps the audience on their toes.
Sarandon shines as the tough and talented Davis. She has obviously been working hard to master Davis’s mannerisms, and speech patterns, even managing to emulate her walk. Sarandon’s timing and wit are spot on. She invokes a great amount of vulnerability and confidence. Sarandon plays Davis with so much emotion, it’s hard not to fall into her story. Many fans came to the party for Davis’s one-liners and sass, but it’s the warm-heartedness and pain that keeps you attached. Sarandon may not have those famous, “Bette Davis” eyes but she’s got this role on lock.
Feud is digging into the two legend’s lives as not only actresses and rivals, but as mothers, friends and women in general. Whether you’re watching this show with the hashtag, “#TeamBette” or “#TeamJoan”, it is likely you’ve found yourself sympathizing with both of them at one time or another.
The most recent episode to air titled, “And the winner is… (The Oscars of 1963),” marks the midpoint of the season. With the Oscar winner revealed the show will now most likely shift from a focus on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane to the 1964 thriller/drama, Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte. If you’re wondering how that connects, then tune in this Sunday on FX and see for yourself.