Spotlight: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Stacia Rice as Baby Jane Hudson and Craig Johnson as Blanche Hudson

Peter Rothstein directs this spoof on the original cinematic dust-up between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and while it features his usual assurance and sense of detail, there's also a welcome unhinged aspect to the proceedings. This story of two sisters sees the washed-up former child star Baby Jane (the Davis role, here played by Stacia Rice) holed up at home caring for Blanche (once Crawford, now Craig Johnson), whose own star had been in ascendance until she was paralyzed in a car accident. There's never a moment's hint that we're to take any of this seriously, signaled from the onset by Rice appearing in hideous makeup with a succession of glazed, batshit-crazy expressions. Johnson is arch and long-suffering in his wheelchair, playing the role straight (so to speak) while sporting a lugubrious drawl (at one point, he manages to pronounce the word "immediately" as though it contained a "G"). The plot, such as it is, hinges on Jane's descent into madness (okay, more madness), terrorizing Blanche with such treats as a dead rat on her dinner plate and withholding phone privileges lest anyone come to her rescue. Gerry Geiken tosses in a slimy note as an alcoholic pianist who, though clearly terrified of Jane, agrees to abide her company in exchange for payment, and Mo Perry lends a sunny note as a next-door neighbor too star-struck to take proper notice of the utter lunacy on her block. Rice and Johnson appear to be having criminal amounts of fun (the two, along with Rothstein, adapted the script), with Johnson suffering an eventually terminal case of the vapors and Rice clearly enjoying unleashing her inner cracked sadist. Smartly, the proceedings are kept to about 90 minutes, because eventually the premise of the thing starts to creak. What with name-checking local theaters in the script, and playing on the occasional eccentricities of theater types, Baby Jane can feel at times like an elaborate inside joke. Lucky, then, that it's a pretty funny one, and asks little more than that we enjoy its profound silliness.

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