Jessica Lange in Country (1984)

Jessica Lange received her third Oscar nomination for playing Jewell Ivy in Country (1984).

I wanted to watch Country for a while because I’m a huge Jessica Lange fan, but it was not my list of performances I intend to review as I thought the film was impossible to find. Naturally, when I came across it I knew I had to watch it immediately, not so much for the film but for Lange’s performance.

Jessica Lange is one of my favourite actresses ever since I watched her amazing performances in American Horror Story, and I’ve always been eager to find out more about her earlier works. Unfortunately, I don’t think her Oscar-nominated films are the most popular (other than Tootsie) so they’re usually quite hard to access. From what I’ve seen, she’s usually the best part of them which makes me respect her choices even more – she’s a performer who clearly goes for roles she feels strongly for, even if the film doesn’t have box office potential.

I found Country to be a mediocre film that I didn’t really care for. The story is interesting and it definitely has a political statement, but the whole setup and direction is basic. I also found the score rather annoying. Seriously, there were times where I felt they were using the music to drive the film towards Hallmark territory and it just grated on my nerves. The actors, however, were fine overall.

Unsurprisingly, Jessica Lange gives the best performance out of the whole film. There are several factors working against her, such as the cheesy tone of the film and the limited development of the character. She isn’t able to give a mindblowing performance like how she did in Frances, Blue Sky and American Horror Story. Jewell Ivy is the matriarch of the farm, and to be honest, she isn’t a very interesting character. In fact, the film portrays her in such a way that she’s almost flawless, a complete opposite of her annoying husband (played by Sam Shepard). You also wouldn’t see any huge breakdowns and monologues that Lange usually nails – the role is a subtle and quiet one and it is clearly a project that she felt very passionately for.

Having said all that, the fact that Lange clearly doesn’t give a shit about how many awards she’s going to win for this performance makes it all the more admirable. She’s committed to the integrity of the story, which is to portray the effects of the agricultural policies on ordinary farmers. While Jewell is a bit of a one-note character, Lange still manages to give a moving and beautiful performance. She is essentially the core of the whole movie – the caring and firm mother, the loving wife, the concerned neighbour, and the pillar of strength for the whole family. What makes the performance impressive is how Lange handles these characteristics effortlessly and realistically. There’s that famous scene where she talks a friend out of a suicide that was really well-handled, but to me, the best part is when she tries to explain her husband’s violent behaviour to her children. I could really see the character struggling to hold it together in front of her children, and throughout the film, we get to see the shades of vulnerability and fear within Jewell.

The first half of the performance is a bit slow because it focuses on how ordinary Jewell is. It’s all realistically performed and Lange exudes a kind of motherly warmth that is very welcoming, but the main excitement comes when Jewell starts to fight for her family’s right. I liked the scene where she screamed at the government officials, even though the music was stupid as hell and the lines were incredibly corny. It really allowed Lange to display Jewell’s fighting spirit and strength as a character.

I don’t want to come off as too critical as Jessica Lange is always good, and to be honest, I don’t have anything to fault with her performance here. A lesser actress would have turned this performance into TV movie material, but she always keeps it realistic and moving. I just wished there was more to it, and I’m sure Lange would have been up for the challenge. A solid 3.5/5.


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