“Feud: Bette and Joan,” the new anthology series from executive producer Ryan Murphy (“Glee”) begins March 5 with one of the most notorious battles in Hollywood history. The eight-part series examines the long-running battle by two Hollywood legends, Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon).
The screen queens only made one movie together, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” but it was such a tempest of jealousy and betrayal that it became the focal point of their hatred for each other. The ill will they had for each other was further fueled by the uncertainties both faced as they came to realize that they were aging out of film stardom.
“Feud” offers a peek behind the magic curtain that is Hollywood. It becomes clear that whether the motivation is greed or vanity, anything is fair game. The series shows that talent only plays a small part in the process.
As was the case with Crawford and Davis battling for the spotlight, so goes “Feud” with Sarandon and Lange.
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Sarandon never tries to do an impression of Davis but does a masterful job capturing the essence of the Oscar-winning actress. She takes Davis from a fearless actor who will dive deep into a role without hesitation to a woman broken by the lack of accolades given her for being so daring.
It is a complex and compelling performance that should get Sarandon an Emmy nomination.
At the other extreme is Lange, who chews up the scenery playing Crawford. The actress was prone to being melodramatic but the series rarely gives Lange a chance to play Crawford with some sense of sanity. Crawford comes across more like a character from “Sunset Boulevard” than a three-dimensional person.
The performance seems even more over the top because of Jackie Hoffman’s performance as Crawford’s housekeeper Mamacita. The stiffness of the role comes across like the comedy relief for the project.
The best moments in “Feud” come when Sarandon and Lange are in the same scene. Sarandon does a marvelous job with her end of the battle as she plays Davis with a more passive-aggressive behavior. Lange’s work in those scenes is much broader and that opens opportunities to go over the top. Together, they provide a proper balance for telling this tale of one of Hollywood’s most infamous feuds.
The cast also includes Alfred Molina as the film’s director Robert Aldrich, Stanley Tucci as studio titan Jack Warner, Judy Davis as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and Alison Wright as Aldrich’s assistant Pauline.
“Feud: Bette and Joan” is uneven emotionally. But it does offer an entertaining glimpse at a battle that rocked Hollywood for years.
The next focus of “Feud” will look at Prince Charles and Lady Diane. It will be broadcast in 2018.
Feud: Bette and Joan
- Grade ☆☆☆
- 10 p.m. Sunday, March 5, FX Network