Thursday, April 27, 2017

TV Show Review: Feud (Bette and Joan)

Ryan Murphy's latest creation takes on a classic Hollywood rivalry between to stars of the silver screen. Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) are cast alongside each other in the film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane directed by Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina). As stars struggling to stay relevant in a male-dominated world, they make their demands and create a tense environment on set. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) strives to find out all the juicy details of their conflict as she stokes the controversy and spreads the rumors. The ruthless and crude producer Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) loathes the stars and treats them with utter contempt and total disrespect.

The scheming continues throughout the production as both stars vie for the spotlight at the expense of the other, spreading increasingly vicious lies about each other. Witnessing this fight is Joan's servant Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman) who is cleverer than her position shows. She puts up with Joan's histrionics throughout must of the show but even she has her limits. As the film wraps, the women find it hard to field other offers as prestigious even though the film becomes a massive success at the box office. Davis is nominated for her role but Crawford schemes to have her revenge.

Aldrich's assistant Pauline Jameson (Alison Wright) writes a script of her own and hopes to direct. She offers a major part to Crawford but Joan doesn't think working for a female director is worth the risk and declines the offer. Narrating parts from a firsthand perspective are two other stars Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Joan Blondell (Kathy Bates). The show is set up as a documentary of sorts, interviewing former stars and others who knew Bette and Joan to get to the bottom of the feud.

Time goes by and Bette and Joan are recruited by Aldrich, recently divorced, to make another film. Bette is brought on as a producer as her relationship with Aldrich turns physical and romantic. Davis uses her power to torment Crawford to the point that she must pretend to be sick to avoid production. Sued by the studio, Joan remains steadfast, unwilling to participate in the film. Eventually, the studio replaces Crawford with Havilland and Joan's decline grows worse from there. The ending is melancholic as neither woman will forgive the other and both are tossed aside by fickle Hollywood.

Feud is an interesting look at the toll of women in the harsh spotlight of the patriarchy. Bette and Joan were forced to compete for a limited amount of roles while a crude producer makes ruthless jabs at their appearance calling it "hagsploitation". Feud taught me a lot as I'm almost wholly ignorant of older films and especially the stars that populated them, a side fact of my movie watching experience. I, unfortunately, missed a screening of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? but I hope to check both of these stars filmography and look forward to the next part of this anthology series. 

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