‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ captures classic Hollywood magic

Nate Day

Ryan Murphy has done it again with his latest addition to his television empire. “Feud: Bette and Joan” tells the story of one of the most famous feuds in Hollywood history. The show is a classic clash-of-the-titans tale with the fiercely feminist flare that the industry has been craving. After the combination of strong commentary on both sexism and ageism and phenomenal performances, it is no wonder that FX is eager to allow Murphy a second season.

Reminiscent of “America Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson,” “Feud” is an anthology drama, with each season covering a different feud in history. For its premiere season the show tackles Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s legendary disdain during their filming of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”

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The show allows viewers an appealing glimpse into history and, better yet, presents it without bias. It would have been easy to make Crawford, one of Hollywood’s most wicked icons, the villain, but the show takes a welcome yet unpredicted turn in showing the cold-heartedness behind Davis’ actions—making Crawford sympathetic and almost lovable. That being said, there is one scene in particular when viewers are teased with Crawford’s temper—a characteristic that is sure to drive the show’s future.

The cast is, of course, incredible. Jessica Lange is sure to get an Emmy nod for her heartbreaking turn as Crawford—I would even dare to say she is better at Crawford than Faye Dunaway was in “Mommie Dearest.” Susan Sarandon nails Davis, at least in part because the two share very similar personalities; both share a sarcastic and cynical self-awareness necessary to make it as a woman in Hollywood. Judy Davis and Stanley Tucci slip seamlessly into their eccentric characters and the brief appearances by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kathy Bates prove just how much range they wield. Zeta-Jones and Bates acted as narrators to the story and I hope to see them get the chance to join the story in the future rather than just tell it.

Costumes, hair, makeup and set design offer a great deal to the show as well. Small details like facial hair and Crawford’s painstakingly recreated house, right down to the plastic covered furniture and vodka-toting refrigerator in the master bathroom, draws viewers back to the 1960s. Bates strikes a strong resemblance to Joan Blondell and Sarandon looks like a clone of Davis once she dons her eerie “Baby Jane” face. The script is also brilliant, capturing the dialects and slang of the day, but most important is the message.

The story of this feud comes from Crawford’s desire to play a half-decent role, a rare commodity for women of a certain age in the early 1960s. Over and over again Crawford and Davis mention that they are not taken seriously anymore despite being legends in their own rights and we even see the male characters discussing whether they are suitable for sex a handful of times. One scene exhibits the women being compared to younger, sexier actresses to replace them, but thankfully, director Robert Aldrich stuck with his leading ladies for their talent.

Should you watch it?: Yes.

The show may specifically address sexism and ageism in Hollywood, but it serves as an important commentary for our society as a whole, joining Murphy’s long list of thoughtful and provocative material. “Feud” is a story for the ages, and much like “America Crime Story,” I expect it to be around for many years to come.

Collegian reporter Nate Day can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @NateMDay.