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Sheila O’Malley’s ‘Bette & Joan’ Recaps Debut at NY Times: Episodes 1 & 2


mottomedia’s favorite critic Sheila O’Malley debuts at the New York Times with this re-cap for Episode 1 of Feud. I happened to catch both episodes Sunday night, pretty much by accident, and enjoyed it, though Jessica Lange’s performance impressed me more than Sarandan’s. I was tempted to write about it, but had more fun reading about it. This rich Hollywood history territory is enormously well-suited to an encyclopedic mind like O’Malley’s. What a fantastic way to start a gig.

Here’s a sample:

… There’s so much exposition in the pilot that it’s a dizzying onslaught, a wall of words to those who might not know the background. The gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) stalks into Crawford’s home, saying, “Word is, since Al died, the board isn’t paying your bills anymore and you’re having to sell your custom Billy Haines furniture piece by piece.” There are no fewer than three entire books in that one sentence. It’s inside-baseball, and sometimes it’s too much, but it’s heartening to realize that attention has been paid.

Judy Becker, the production designer who did the exquisite design for Todd Haynes’s “Carol,” has re-created a bygone era in a way that feels lived-in and specific, as opposed to campy-arch. As director, Murphy keeps the focus on the two women, treating them with humanity and sympathy. Neither is perfect, but “Feud” understands that nobody becomes a star of their magnitude by being polite.

Lange and Sarandon have done their homework. … (more)

I discovered O’Malley’s writing about two years ago, researching the 2014 movie “Homesman“, and hopping from IMDB, landed on this review. Sheila’s one of the regular contributors at Roger Ebert‘s site. Something in her writing, some crazy little detail, captivated me so much I began writing her email notes, and she responded, which began an occasional exchange. I started following more of her writing, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

It was this segment, in O’Malley’s “Homesman” review that captivated me:

…The West, as seen in “The Homesman,” is an unforgiving place, with flashes of stark and nightmarish beauty. Three women have lost their minds in “The Homesman,” but honestly, everyone you meet in the film is slightly crazy, the homesman most of all. Nobody is a pillar of mental health. Sanity, then, could be seen as overrated, especially in a world like the one in “The Homesman.” And those who lose their minds may very well be the only realists in the story. These are deeply suggestive ideas, and when “The Homesman” works best it teeters around in that morally ambiguous territory. It’s a risky film …

There’s an interview with O’Malley here.

I predict O’Malley will be at some point be offered a resident film critic slot at one of a major metropolitan newspaper, if she hasn’t already. Her work has been appearing in Film Comment, as well. Finding her debut in the New York Times is no surprise. Sheila’s re-cap for Episode 2 of Feud is also now up at the NY Times.


See more of O’Malley’s writing here, at The Sheila Variations, where if you’re not careful, you can get lost.

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  1. Shelia O’Malley’s ‘Feud’ Recap: Bette and Joan’ Episode 3 –

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