Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies

Jessica Sherr in Bette Davis Ain't for Sissies

American actress Jessica Sherr plays Bette Davis on the night she loses the Oscar to Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett, an apt occasion for reminiscing and soul-searching.

This is not the self-parodying Davis of later years, but a proud and ambitious young actress, and Sherr wisely doesn’t let her portrayal slip into caricature. If anything, she errs in the opposite direction, occasionally losing Davis’s individuality in generic actress, and even her nicely underdone suggestions of Davis’s voice and speaking style repeatedly fade or disappear entirely. (And while I’m at it, that hairdo is really more Joan Crawford than Davis.)

Sherr’s Davis knows she’s good but also knows the debts she owes, and there are appreciative nods to William Wyler for teaching her her craft and George Arliss for counsel and support.

But the rambling structure of the monologue may confuse those who don’t come in knowing the facts, as when a hitherto unmentioned husband appears suddenly just in time to be rejected or when Howard Hughes is presented as the great passion of Davis’s life and then instantly dropped.

Not broadly comic or catty enough to be a guilty pleasure or clearly informative enough to add much to common knowledge, the piece is too rarely more than a rough and surface character sketch.

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Portrayal of the iconic actress nicely avoids caricature but offers too little in its place