Critical Condition: Feud: Bette and Joan

Feud: Bette and Joan (SoHo, 8.30 Tuesdays)

“A fantastic miniseries has arrived that at last fully tells the painful history of being gay in modern America — and no, silly, it’s not ABC’s dourly dutiful When We Rise. It’s Feud: Bette and Joan, Ryan Murphy’s latest and rapturously entertaining anthology project … The eight-episode series stars Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, two aging screen legends caught in one of Hollywood’s most acidic rivalries, an animosity exploited by the men who control the movie business, as well as certain women (including Judy Davis as a smart, vicious Hedda Hopper) who’ve weaponised gossip.” — The Washington Post.

Feud is so aware of the ways in which female rivalry works to the advantage of the men who run Hollywood that it seems, at times, to be operating at cross-purposes with itself. As with past Murphy shows, its tone has a tendency to shift quickly. Characters, in a faux-documentary framing device, plainly state, again and again, the challenges women face in Hollywood. It’s a worthy message but one that seems too earnest for a show whose creator, a man, is taking some Real Housewives–ish pleasure at the dissension between his female subjects.” — Time.

“A lot of Feud is tailored for fanatics, for the sort of person who gets wonky joy from shifting aspect ratios and colour saturation levels or can appreciate a good off-hand reference to Franchot Tone or already awaits the silver sparkle of Crawford’s Oscar gown. Fortunately, production designer Judy Becker and Lou Eyrich’s costumes flawless period evocation can be appreciated without a Ph.D. in film studies and the ample pleasures of watching four Oscar-winning actresses and a slew of other stars backstab, conspire and strive for excellence should make Feud: Bette and Joan another success for Ryan Murphy.” — The Hollywood Reporter.

“What grips you and holds you are the marvelous performances by huge stars of today playing huge stars of yester-year. Lange — who has thrived in Murphy’s employ playing a series of broken and nasty grand dames on American Horror Story — is heartbreakingly nasty as the fragile and toxic Crawford. She blows up Crawford’s Mommie Dearest pop persona by deepening it, exposes all the vulnerabilities of a woman who was terrified of showing any. Sarandon, new to Murphy’s troupe, nails the stare, the stiffness, and the blazing, sexy intelligence of Bette Davis, humanising her without sanding off the edges.” — Entertainment Weekly.

Feud would like to change the conversation about female competition, demonstrating how similar Crawford and Davis are even as forces around them profit off of pitting them against each other. But for as much as the show tries to humanise its leads, it also seems to revel in their diva moments, their claws-out hatred for each other. Feud is ultimately caught in an awkward limbo — neither as brilliantly campy and hateful as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? nor as contextualising and profound as People v. O.J. Simpson.” — Variety.

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