If you, like me, have a morbid curiosity for true crime stories and an affinity for great storytelling, Hulu’s The Act mini-series might be up your alley. The Act is based on the real case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, a young woman who grew up being convinced by her mother, Dee Dee, that she needed a myriad of medications and surgical procedures when she didn’t, and later conspired with her internet boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn to murder Dee Dee. Although the show is based on true events, many of them told through Michele Dean’s comprehensive Buzzfeed article, the show obviously takes liberties of the story for dramatic effect.
Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard were apparently a feel-good story a few years ago as a single mother and daughter clinging to every precious moment together after having survived— according to Dee Dee— an abusive and alcoholic deadbeat husband and father, low income housing difficulties, Hurricane Katrina and Gypsy’s unfortunate cocktail of terminal illnesses that she had to deal with daily, including Lupus, cancer, food allergies, etc. They weathered it all with the biggest optimism and spunk that they were booked on numerous local television shows, earned monetary compensation and Make-A-Wish trips to Disney World and were gifted their home from Habitat for Humanity. But Gypsy’s so-called ailments and debilitating illnesses were not real; it was only after the murder of Dee Dee that the public began to be educated on the truth.
The Act features Joey King as Blanchard and Patricia Arquette as Dee Dee, and both are fantastically cast in their roles. King nails Gypsy’s high pitched good girl voice while Arquette’s Southern drawl is both soothing and sinister. The show’s timeline is not entirely chronological: the main arc of the show showcases the chapter of their lives as they settle in their bubblegum pink Missouri home as the new folks in the neighborhood, leading up to Dee Dee’s murder. The neighbors’ captivation with the Blanchards is juxtaposed with scenes of the immediate aftermath of Dee Dee’s murder, and the unraveling of the truth of Gypsy’s true physical state.
I was initially put off by the non-chronological order of the show, but it eventually grew on me and gave a new level of understanding of the story. Because so much of it is predicated on the public perception of the two, that’s a narrative that deserves its own arc, as bystanders and viewers alike process the layers of deception. One such character that presents doubts to Dee Dee and Gypsy’s act is neighbor Mel, played by Chloe Sevigny (umm, YES!). Mel and her daughter, Lacey, (AnnaSophia Robb) become close with the Blanchards, and they serve as audience surrogate in suspecting odd vibes in their public appearance.
The show doesn’t speculate on Dee Dee’s motives or reasons for fabricating Gypsy’s illnesses beyond the widely-suspected Munchausen by proxy, and it successfully balances depicting her with enough humanity and ugliness that she deserves. Gypsy, too, is an uncertain victim of her mother’s abuse as well as a willing participant in her mother’s narrative, mostly due to trust and blind faith that her mother’s care was selfless and dedicated. Even after the crime, Dee Dee would always be her best friend.
This, like the best true crime-based series, is a rollercoaster. Going into this show without prior knowledge of the case, I was floored and heartbroken with the level of abuse that transpired, and the frustration with doctors and authority figures who were unable to challenge Dee Dee’s fantastic illness claims for Gypsy. As Gypsy, King’s performance is still staggeringly imprinted in my mind, and I think it will be for quite some time.
The Act is streaming now on Hulu.
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers film and previously contributed to the OCW’s long-running fashion column, Trendzilla. Don’t ask her what her favorite movie is unless you want to hear her lengthy defense of Showgirls.