I don’t often do articles on television shows because only a truly superb series can inspire me to promote it. My very first figmentum was a review of Penny Dreadful on Showtime (see here and here). In a subsequent figmentum, I raved about the Netflix series Daredevil (see here). Given what those two series say about my taste in entertainment, you may find it surprising that I would now feel inspired to rave about Feud: Bette and Joan (see here) which is currently playing on FX (preview here).
To sum it up in typical Hollywood fashion: Feud delivers a spicy pair of dishes!
The 8 episode series recreates the bitterly tempestuous rivalry between the legendary actresses Bette Davis (see here) and Joan Crawford (see here). Screen icon Bette Davis is portrayed with masterfully understated brilliance by Susan Sarandon (see here). Sarandon exquisitely captures the quirky but many-layered personality of Davis without succumbing to portraying her as the caricature of the actress that has been depicted through innumerable movie and cartoon parodies. Jessica Lange (see here) delivers an equally brilliant performance, fearlessly inhabiting a bitter and ever-acting Joan Crawford, desperately clinging to old grudges and her fading superstar status.
The series doesn’t rely only upon these great lead performances. The 1960’s sets are recreated with impeccable attention to detail and the supporting cast is just wonderful. Catherine Zeta Jones is radiant as always in her portrayal of Davis’ friend Olivia de Havilland. Kathy Bates is believably engaging as actress Joan Blondell and Alfred Molina resonates as the beleaguered film director Robert Aldrich. Judy Davis is shamelessly scheming as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and Jackie Hoffman delivers a comically low key performance as Crawford’s Lady Friday, Manacita. Many other classic stars make “cameo” appearances.
Here’s the other thing about Feud that I really appreciate. Whenever I see a movie or television show that is “based on actual events,” I immediately do some research to fact-check the accuracy of the dramatization. In the vast majority of these recreations, the film proves to be about as realistic as an animated George Washington confessing to his father that he cut down the cherry tree. Feud, however, appears to be meticulously researched and faithfully recreated. Despite some relatively minor historical nits (see here), the series seems to be spot-on in style, substance, and sequence.
In fact, I find that one of the biggest flaws in historical films is that they under-dramatize the reality of the actual events. For the most part, reality is just too raw, too disturbing to depict on film. If real events were shown as they actually happened, most viewers would turn away in disbelief and/or revulsion. Truth is indeed more difficult to believe than fiction. While Feud is presumably somewhat sanitized, it doesn’t shirk away from raw emotions and ugly behaviors.
Feud is both a comedy and a tragedy. You want to laugh at the over-the-top behaviors of these people but you can’t because their feelings and motivations hit way too close to the heart.
Check out Feud. I hope you enjoy it as much as I am. This is the kind of great filmmaking that we should all support.