After tonight’s Feud: Bette and Joan finale on FX, Jessica Lange delivers what is arguably her greatest performance ever. Is the Emmy a certainty?
This will be a short post. There remains a great deal to write about the 2017 Emmy season, but one thing became extraordinarily clear tonight. Feud: Bette and Joan aired its season finale, and say what you will about the overall show, you cannot deny the power of Jessica Lange’s extraordinary performance as Hollywood legend Joan Crawford. My gut tells me that the Television Academy will find the performance near impossible to ignore.
Now, I do remain one of those people who think Lange’s Joan Crawford remains more Lange than Crawford. The comparisons between the two actresses became a distraction in the early episodes, particularly those of us who’d recently seen What Ever Happened To Baby Jane. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell the difference between her Joan Crawford or any of her American Horror Story incarnations. They all sounded the same.
Yet, as the series progressed and moved away from the literal recreations of the film, Lange moved away from imitation. She needed to create the Joan Crawford behind the scenes. Away from cameras. Plus, series creator Ryan Murphy all but 100 percent focused on Crawford toward the end of Feud. Long stretches of time passed before we’d even get a hint of Susan Sarandon’s Bette Davis. It calls to mind milk cartons with “Have you seen this actress?”
You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?
In the series finale, Lange’s interpretation of Joan Crawford reached an operatic frenzy. Sure, you undoubtedly chuckled at the scenes of Crawford scrubbing the bathroom floor or burning her hand on microwaved dinners. Then came the dentist scene where Crawford eerily described the extraction of molars to give her a more defined line of the face. Then came the cancer scenes. Or the “my grandchildren actually love me” scenes. And the scenes of embarrassment surrounding the Trog experience and the early fandom aftermath. Gut-wrenching embarrassment after gut-wrecking embarrassment culminating in Lange’s final scene for the series – a full-on Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard moment in which she’s haunted by ghosts and memories of the past. Remember the scene in Sunset when Joe Gillis (William Holden) comments on the “waxworks” playing cards? Lange’s final scene touched on moments like that and more.
It’s a cliche to say her performance was heart-breaking, but it was. The entire series comments on those left behind, but eventually, they aren’t just actresses. They’re seniors, the elderly, grandmothers and grandfathers. Those nearly abandoned by children with busier lives or long-standing resentments.
Jessica Lange channeled that all. In my opinion, Feud: Bette and Joan easily evolved into one of her greatest performances to date. Is it the best? Hard to say because it’s been decades since I’ve seen her early 80’s work. But her Joan Crawford towers above anything she’s done in American Horror Story.
The performance reminds us all that, with respect to older actresses, nothing has changed since the era of Crawford and Davis. Lange should be working in both film and TV, rather than TV and the stage. Hollywood hunts for diversity, but diversity of age apparently remains outside of the conversation. Leave it to Ryan Murphy to nearly single-handedly rescue all aging actresses and cast them in his many, many, many television series.
If they’re all delivering performances like Lange, then there won’t be enough Emmys to go around. Sorry Nicole Kidman, Jessica Lange might have this one in the bag.
Direction, Limited Series
Writing, Limited Series
Jessica Lange – Actress, Limited Series
Judy Davis – Supporting Actress, Limited Series
Alfred Molina – Supporting Actor, Limited Series
Stanley Tucci – Supporting Actor, Limited Series
Susan Sarandon – Actress, Limited Series
Jackie Hoffman – Supporting Actress, Limited Series
Catherine Zeta Jones – Supporting Actress, Limited Series