Rebecca Redshaw's "SOFA CINEMA: An Easy Guide to DVDs, Volume 1" will be published this fall. Read all her DVD reviews compiled in one book.
The movies selected for review are the choice of the reviewer. Suggestions for DVD titles are welcome. Enjoy the movies.
From time to time, SOFA CINEMA takes the opportunity to feature an exceptional talent. He or she may offer a gift behind the scenes i.e. director, writer, cinematographer, musical scorer or a recognizable face from a variety of roles in front of the camera. Here are three of Jessica Lange's features that show her range as an actor.
"Normal," unrated TV feature
What is "Normal?" Debuting at the Sundance Film Festival and produced for HBO in 2003, "Normal" is set in the Midwest. Tom Wilkinson plays an older man named Roy who really feels like a woman named Ruth. This "regular" guy is well respected in his small town, works hard at the local factory and has a wife (Jessica Lange) and two children. However, in the immortal words of Desi Arnez, Roy has "a lot of 'splainin' to do."
Too often the topic of transgender is the butt of bad taste and/or bad writing. However, writer/director Jane Anderson does a masterful job exploring the societal, familial and generational dynamics of this complex orientation. The folks in "Normal's" small town are hardly smooth in their handling of Roy's life change but this director elicits a believability from her cast that's not only honest, it's refreshing.
Wilkinson makes interesting, and daring, choices in his work from "The Full Monty" to "The Bedroom" to "Normal." With or without clothes, in the closet or in the middle of the room, he's an actor of tremendous courage.
Lange is brilliant as a "stand by your man" woman or better yet, "stand by your woman" woman, or best, "stand by the person you love" woman.
"Tootsie," rated PG
In 1982 when "Tootsie" was released, Dustin Hoffman was nominated for an Academy Award in the "Best Actor" category. He was robbed. That year the "Best Actress" category included Jessica Lange, Debra Winger, Sissy Spacek, Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews. It seems logical that a "special" category could have been instituted for Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Andrews ("Victoria/Victoria") for successfully performing in both groupings.
Accolades aside (Ms. Lange did win the Oscar for "Best Supporting Actress") "Tootsie" is a funny movie. It is also a poignant movie, romantic, ironic, frustrating and insightful.
Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) is an actor who can't buy an acting job. He teaches other struggling actors and auditions endlessly but his agent (and also director, Sydney Pollack) tells him he's burned too many bridges with his attitude. No one will work with Dorsey. However, the same cannot be said for Dorothy Michaels. In desperation, Dorsey auditions in drag and he/she not only lands the part, she's brilliant.
Pollack assembled a wonderful cast of characters in addition to Hoffman and Lange; Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Pollack (as the agent), and an unscripted, uncredited role by a very droll Bill Murray as Jeff, Michael/Dorothy's roommate.
In one scene while Michael is transforming into Dorothy, Jeff says, "I'm just afraid you're going to burn in hell for all of this." Au contraire, the only risk to the viewer in watching "Tootsie" is the possibility you might die laughing.
"Frances," rated R
If there were any doubts about Jessica Lange's acting ability after the 1976 remake of "King Kong," they were summarily dismissed in 1982. That year she won a "Best Supporting Actress" Academy Award for her role in "Tootsie" and she earned a "Best Actress" nomination for her starring role in "Frances."
The former part was of a beautiful soap star who charmed everyone she met. The latter role required Lange to age from a teenager through her turbulent middle years, battling alcoholism, egotistical studio moguls and dysfunctional family dynamics. Lange delivers a powerhouse performance in this fictionalized account of the real-life actress Frances Farmer.
The movie "Frances" is narrated by Harry York (Sam Shephard), a fictionalized lover and confidant of Farmer from her early days in Seattle. They meet not long after the young Frances gets attention from the press. Farmer's mother, Lillian (Kim Stanley) is determined to live through her daughter's fame and be a part of the glamorous world of Hollywood.
Frances continually battles the system, to her detriment and ultimate destruction. She feels betrayed by those she loves and they rarely disappoint.
At more than two hours, "Frances" can be heart-wrenching to watch. As a misguided mother, Stanley is calmly understated yet powerful. Shephard offers a frustrated voice of reason, and Lange? Lange's performance is insightful and emotionally exhausting and proof that she is one of her generation's premiere talents.
Rebecca Redshaw can be reached at
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