Sunday, January 3, 2016

1994: Jessica Lange for Blue Sky

Lange plays an army wife whose promiscuity and unpredictable behavior (probably a result of un-diagnosed bipolar disorder) cause problems for herself, her husband, and their children.

I had never seen this movie - or indeed, even heard of it - before, and at the beginning it looked like it was going to be one of the worst performances to win this award. At first the movie seems like it's going to focus more on the husband than on her character, and her first few scenes consist mainly of over-the-top temper tantrums. I was less than impressed. But then the story takes a few rather unexpected turns, and she becomes both more important and more interesting. Initially she seems like an over-simplified, stereotypical "crazy wife," but about halfway through she turns into a realistic protagonist, and from then on the performance becomes much more impressive. While at first we can only see the disease, ultimately we are able to see the human being struggling with it. Possibly the best example is when someone calls her crazy and she retorts that people have been calling her that for so long that it no longer has any impact on her. Except there are tears in her eyes and the slightest hint of a quiver in her voice as she says that.

Another thing I like about this performance is that although her illness is a big part of her life, it's not the only thing that defines her. When, in an ironic twist, her husband ends up in a mental institution, I kind of expected her to descend deeper into depression, but she has a lot more fight in her than is evident in the first few scenes. Yes, Lange's performance is often over-the-top even in later scenes, but sometimes the role calls for it, and I think her overacting serves to enhance the character more often than it detracts from the story. I've certainly seen much better performances in the course of this project, but I've also definitely seen worse. It isn't amazing, but it was better than expected.

This was Jessica Lange's second Oscar, her first being for Best Supporting Actress in 1982's Tootsie. That same year she was nominated for her first Best Actress Oscar for Frances. She was nominated for Best Actress three more times - for 1984's Country, 1985's Sweet Dreams, and 1989's Music Box - before winning for this, her most recent nomination. Now she's mostly known for the TV show "American Horror Story," for which she has won a Golden Globe and two Emmys, but she's still in the occasional movie, so she could still get another Oscar nomination someday.

Up next: Susan Sarandon

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