FX’s ‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ strikes perfect balance between campy and heart-wrenching

Catfights. Body odor. Jealousy. The behind-the-scenes drama of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962) was a Hollywood war zone like we’d never seen before. Movie icons Bette Davis and Joan Crawford may be firmly in the history books for their contributions to the early days of cinema, but not without certain blemishes on their records as detailed in the new limited series “Feud: Bette and Joan.” Coming March 5 to FX, writer-director-producer Ryan Murphy (“The People v. O.J. Simpson”) presents a vulnerable look at what really happened during the filming of that psychological thriller and beyond, with Oscar winner Susan Sarandon (“Dead Man Walking” in 1995) playing Davis and two-time champ Jessica Lange (“Tootsie” in 1982, “Blue Sky” in 1994) portraying Crawford.

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bette-and-joan-300-227Based on “Best Actress,” a script by Jaffe Cohen and Michael Zam, “Feud” appears on the surface to be a campy take on the infamous bad blood between Davis and Crawford. But it’s so much more than that. Just like how “The People v. O.J. Simpson” grounded a sensationalized courtroom fiasco in reality, “Feud” resists the urge to go over the top and instead amps up the heart-wrenching emotional issues of the day — namely ageism, sexism and misogyny.

In the post-Hillary Clinton world where millions of women are marching for their rights, “Feud” hits a nerve by detailing stark realities for actresses that still exist today. In the debut episode Crawford is at the stage of her career where she’s no longer getting cast in pictures, so she takes it upon herself to find a story, a writer/director (Alfred Molina) and a co-star (Davis) all on her own. Indeed, without Crawford’s personal drive, there would never have been a “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” and, thus, never a “Feud.”

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The first two episodes are directed by showrunner Murphy, with the third hour helmed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton (“American Horror Story: Roanoke”). After viewing the first three of eight total episodes, we can confirm that there are plenty of laughs amidst all the drama and emotion. A particularly hilarious moment in the third hour — titled “Mommie Dearest,” an ode to the 1981 film starring Faye Dunaway as Crawford — will no doubt be a favorite among Gold Derby readers as Davis and Crawford argue about who’ll go lead and who’ll be supporting at the Oscars, with Davis screaming that she was cheated out of an Oscar for “All About Eve” by Judy Holliday in 1950.

Joining Sarandon and Lange in the main cast are Molina as “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” director Robert Aldrich, Stanley Tucci as studio producer Jack Warner, Judy Davis as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, Jackie Hoffman as Crawford’s housekeeper Mamacita and Alison Wright as Aldrich’s assistant Pauline. Notable guest stars include Dominic Burgess as Victor Buono, Catherine Zeta Jones as Olivia De Havilland, Sarah Paulson as Geraldine Page, Kathy Bates as Joan Blondell and Kiernan Shipka as Davis’ daughter B.D.

Sarah Paulson completes awards sweep for ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’ at SAG Awards

When the Emmy Awards announce their nominations on July 13, 2017, there may be a real-life feud between Sarandon and Lange in the Best Movie/Limited Series Actress category. How will Emmy voters ever be able to choose between the two A-listers? Can we please just ask for a tie?

Based on the first three hours, Molina, Tucci and Davis are shoo-ins for the supporting races. “Feud: Bette and Joan” will also be a major contender for writing/directing bids galore (remember that “The People v. O.J. Simpson” earned three writing and three directing noms). And watch out for those all-important creative arts categories like makeup, hairstyling, costumes, production design, editing, cinematography, sound, music and casting. Let the Emmy feuds begin!

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