When asked about her deceased mother, Gypsy Rose Blanchard said, “I think she would have been the perfect mom for someone that actually was sick. But I’m not sick.”
Based on the disturbing true story, “The Act” is a true crime anthology that focuses on the 2015 murder of Dee Dee Blanchard at the hands of her believed-disabled daughter, Gypsy, and her long-distance boyfriend. Upon investigating the case, it turns out Dee Dee fabricated her daughter’s numerous illnesses and disabilities as a result of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Gypsy grew up convinced that she could not walk or consume sugar, and Dee Dee constantly lied about her daughter’s age, implying she has the mental competency of a child. When Gypsy experiences a sexual awakening after meeting her online partner, Nick Godejohn, years of manipulation and medical abuse end in a fateful act of passion.
Patrica Arquette and Joey King are phenomenal as the deceptive mother-daughter duo. Arquette takes a real person who is easy to portray as a boogeyman and delivers an unnerving level of realism to her cruelty. Meanwhile, King has finally made a name for herself in her chillingly accurate portrayal of Gypsy Rose Blanchard. After several years of attempts at mature film roles, she embodies Gypsy’s plight and eventual breakdown.
Chloë Sevigny and AnnaSophia Robb play the Blanchards’ neighbors, two outsiders looking in. They serve as stand-ins for the audience, as they try to deduce from afar the reality of the Blanchard dynamic, culminating in a horrific discovery.
Something particularly interesting about the narrative is the dichotomy between Gypsy’s reality and the eventual reveal of Dee Dee’s lies. While unaware of the depths of her mother’s deception, Gypsy does consistently perform for reporters and associates. She asks her mother for validation of her interviews and she follows everything Dee Dee asks without questioning it too thoroughly.
Watch the trailer for ‘The Act’ below.
An interesting aspect of the Blanchard case is how abuse of power and repression contributed to the eventual murder. Professional reviewer, Megan McLachlan, pointed out the correlation between the #MeToo movement’s analysis of female suppression and Dee Dee’s control over her daughter. It seems futile that after all her mother put her through, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a boy. However, for a sexually repressed woman who was gaslit into doubting the extent of her capabilities, any shred of attention was an escape from her existence as a patient.
Not only should the infantilization of women factor into the discussion about Gypsy’s life with her mother, but “The Act” should also spark discussions about the line between parental respect and complete dominance. In a society that commodifies youth when their existence is convenient, the prevalence of parental abuse is a contributing factor. Disabled people are often at a disadvantage due to people doubting their worth based on productivity, and in the case of Gypsy Blanchard, her worth was instead based on how her mother could profit off of her sicknesses.
While “The Act” does not entirely differ from other true crime media, a fantastic cast and a nuanced portrayal of a story stranger than fiction place the result above most shows. As it currently stands, “The Act” makes for a murder mystery where the build-up is more enthralling than the reveal.