(a “favorite actress of all time” review by Timothy J. Verret)
It might not be entirely within my limited human grasp to effectively review actress Jessica Lange, my favorite actress of all time. It’s gonna take an act of Congress to eloquently (a perfect adverb for Ms. Lange) draft this review to cover the ground Ms. Lange covers as a sublime actress. It’s gonna take some serious emotional detailing and spiritual tenacity to do Ms. Lange justice (there’s that reference to “Congress” again).
From Wikipedia, Jessica Phyllis Lange (born April 20, 1949) is the 13th actress to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting, having won two Academy Awards, three Primetime Emmy Awards, and a Tony Award (another favorite actress of mine has achieved this fame: Barbra Streisand). Ms. Lange also holds the record for most nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film (eat your heart out, Meryl Streep!). In 1998, Entertainment Weekly listed Jessica Lange among the 25 Greatest Actresses of the 1990s (I wonder how she ranks now approaching 2021?).
So, what is this enormous appeal and staggering hold Jessica Lange has over me as an actress? It can best be surmised in one word: EMOTIONS! Actress Meryl Streep is known for her emotional landscape of acting, and this is very true, but no other actress comes even close to this equaled honor than Jessica Lange. I’m not sure how far back I need to go in Ms. Lange’s acting career to explore this, but I do plan to omit her initial screen performance in KING KONG (1976) and start with her first Oscar win in TOOTSIE (1982). A good place as any to start, because Ms. Lange was nominated twice for the Oscar in 1982: She won for TOOTSIE as Best Supporting Actress, but she was also nominated as Best Actress for her phenomenal performance as true-to-life film actress, Frances Farmer, in FRANCES (1982). And talk about two night-and-day performances in the same year! In TOOTSIE, Ms. Lange was delightful and endearing and “soft,” but in FRANCES, she gave a performance that was polar opposite, i.e., forceful and grueling and “rough.” But in BOTH performances, Ms. Lange was one thing throughout: EMOTIONS! And, boy, was she ever so truthful and so right from the heart. SIDE NOTE: If Meryl Streep in SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982), who won Best Actress that year, had not been in the same category, without a shadow of a doubt. Ms. Lange would have won for FRANCES!
Some time, back, I reviewed the film, A THOUSAND ACRES (https://timothyjverret.blog/2020/10/07/a-thousand-acres-1997/) with Jessica Lange as Ginny Cook. I invite the reader to refer to that review, as it well established the fact that there is no single acting performance out there, actor or actress, that was more my biography than Ms. Lange’s performance in that film. Ginny Cook’s story parallels my own story, i.e., going from a simpleton to a force to be reckoned with. On that note, Lange gives “journey” performances. The minute Ms. Lange appears on screen or onstage, it’s “on like Donkey Kong!” (sorry, had to make reference to KING KONG, since I omitted Ms. Lange’s performance in this film). Ms. Lange starts her character’s journey, she takes the character from A-Z of emotions on this journey, and the result when all is said and done is a character’s journey fulfilled, and we are left with a lifetime to go back and figure out how Ms. Lange accomplished just this. Give Ms. Lange a one-note character, and she’ll create a full-fledged symphony out of her!
It has only been fairly recently that Jessica Lange came back with a vengeance as an actress in the 21st century. It started when she met up with creator Ryan Murphy for his ongoing TV series, AMERICAN HORROR STORY, and he hired her, I would imagine with very little hesitation, to give some truly spellbinding performances. I have to say I turned away from the series when the horror just got, well, too horrible. But I want to focus on Ms. Lange’s performance as Sister Jude Martin in AHS’ ASYLUM (2012). Ms. Lange played a nun who ran an insane asylum, only to be triggered by her own demons from a truly horrible and sordid past that ended up with her inside the very same asylum she once ran. There just could not be much sympathy anyone could have for Sister Jude but because Ms. Lange is a truly truthful and remarkable actress, she made us care very deeply for Sister Jude. To be honest, I don’t remember how Ms. Lange’s Sister Jude ended her journey in the series, because I was completely mesmerized by Ms. Lange’s incredible performance of the character’s beginning and middle journey. I saw an interview Ms. Lange gave with Mr. Murphy, and she said when she read the script and found out that her character “goes mad,” she said with zero hesitation, “Sign me up!” Ms. Lange knew she could do the character justice, and she also knew she would have to go the depths of hell to give Sister Jude the journey she deserved.
I hope I did a decent job of “grasping” what Jessica Lange means to me, an actor and a spiritual being. Very much like Ingmar Bergman and his actors and actresses, I steal like crazy from Ms. Lange to be an actor who acts from the heart and acts with a whole lot of emotions. And the best compliment I can possibly give Jessica Lange is that I steal like crazy from her not only for my acting but also for the journey I am currently on as a fully-evolving spiritual being.
I was all prepared to end this review right here, until I remembered something: Jessica Lange as Ginny Cook in A THOUSAND ACRES spoke the last line of the film that I pray is not my last line but my very first: “I see hope.”