Fresh On TV: ‘FEUD’ Masterfully Revives One of Hollywood’s Most Bitter Rivalries


Andy Begay // Contributing Writer

Creator:  Ryan Murphy
Cast: Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Judy Davis, Jackie Hoffman, Alfred Molina, Stanley Tucci and Catherine Zeta-Jones

The Resurrection of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford

Whether it’s Taylor upsetting Kimye yet again or Mariah Carey vehemently claiming she doesn’t know J-Lo for the thousandth time, longstanding celebrity beef is simply a fact of life in every gilded corner of the entertainment industry, from Broadway to Tinseltown. This well-known topic of contention is the overarching theme in the first installment of Ryan Murphy’s newest anthology series, FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN, which is based on the screenplay “Best Actress” by Jaffe Cohen and Michael Zam.

In what could easily serve as a how-to guide in professional shade-throwing, FEUD deliciously chronicles the ongoing acrimonious and oftentimes explosive rivalry between silver-screen legends Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) during and after their collaboration on 1962’s Oscar-nominated thriller WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

In addition to keeping their rivalry alive and well, Crawford and Davis are faced with not only fading fame and the plight of falling into obscurity, but also flagrant misogyny, sexism and ageism among Hollywood execs and society as a whole. Lange and Sarandon, both Hollywood powerhouses in their own right, of course, breathe glorious life into their characters, fearlessly resurrecting Crawford and Davis from their decades-long hiatus from the limelight.

When it comes to capturing some of the most historic behind-the-scenes antics that allegedly took place between Crawford and Davis, FEUD certainly doesn’t disappoint. Whether it’s Davis “accidentally” kicking Crawford in the head while shooting a scene for BABY JANE or the covert anti-Davis campaign Crawford spearheaded just prior to the 35th Annual Academy Awards — which resulted in Crawford accepting the Best Actress Oscar on Anne Brancroft’s behalf — we can do nothing but sit back and impatiently wait for whatever happens next.

Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis, Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford. COurtesy of Suzanne Tenner/FX.

When Academy Award winners Lange and Sarandon aren’t stealing scenes and moving the Davis-Crawford saga forward, we’re treated to outstanding performances by: Stanley Tucci, who plays Warner Bros. bigwig Jack Warner; Alfred Molina as BABY JANE director Robert Aldrich; Judy Davis, who embodies the eccentric gossip columnist Hedda Hopper; Jackie Hoffman as Mamacita, Crawford’s loyal housekeeper; and Alison Wright as Aldrich’s assistant Pauline. Other noteworthy performances come from guest stars: Dominic Burgess, who portrays Crawford and Davis’ co-star Victor Buono; Catherine Zeta-Jones as Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland; Sarah Paulson as actress Geraldine Paige; Kathy Bates as Joan Blondell; and MAD MEN’s Kiernan Shipka as Davis’ daughter B.D.

As with any feud, you may very well find yourself choosing sides or wondering, “Can’t we all just get along?” while watching Lange and Sarandon battle it out onscreen. But, at the same time, FEUD implores us to take a deeper look at the inner workings of not only the misogynistic landscape of the entertainment industry, but also the embedded social constructs and bigoted ideals that continue to condone pitting women against women and thus impede full social acceptance of male-female equality.

All in all, FEUD hooks you with the history, narrative and cast performance while (hopefully) making you realize there’s no time like the present to actively work on righting a centuries-old, sexist wrong.

FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN premieres tonight at 9 p.m. CT on FX.

Feature Photo: Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis, Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford. Courtesy of Kurt Iswarienko/FX.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.