Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Pauline Kael

“In Sweet Dreams, Jessica Lange plays the pop-and-country singer Patsy Cline with a raw physicality that's challenging and heroic. "Patsy didn't hold anything back," Lange has been quoted as saying. "Patsy had a way of hitting life head-on." That's exactly how Lange plays her. It took courage for Lange to abandon her blond silkiness and appear as a raw, small-town Southern girl with bushy dark hair who dresses in outfits her mother makes for her. (Patsy's mother seems to have cornered the market in shrill-blue fabrics). And it took intelligence not to tone up the story with genteel movie-star conceits. Lange's interpretation of Patsy Cline's character is based on the best possible source--her singing--and she creates a hot, woman-of-the-people heroine with a great melodic gift. Almost insistently clumsy and completely unpretentious, her Patsy is like an American backcountry version of the young Anna Magnani. The singing voice that comes out of her is from the vocal tracks of recordings that Patsy Cline made between 1960 and 1963. (In come cases, new instrumental tracks with new background singers have been laid on.) It takes a few songs before you get used to Lange's body with patsy Cline's voice, but as Lange's Patsy rises to stardom, bouncing and dancing as she sings, you feel the unity: Patsy's voice is generating Lange's performance.Error! Reference source not found.

“Patsy Cline was one of the rare full-throated belters with the ability and stamina to belt musically, exultantly, and Jessica Lange's body lives up to the sound. So does her speaking voice, which she modulates so that it's in the same range as Patsy's singing. Growing as confident as the singing voice coming out of her, Lange even puts a raucous growl on a line of dialogue to match Patsy's growl. Lange and Patsy Cline's voice energize the picture, give it a vigor that women have rarely had a chance to show in starring roles. Sweet Dreams . . . is a woman's picture of a new kind--a feminist picture not because of any political attitudes but because its strong-willed heroine is a husky, physically happy woman who wants pleasure out of life. Lange's Patsy cline doens't have to talk about her art: we can see that she's happiest and rowdiest and most fully alive when she sings, and when she's rolling in the hay. What the movie makes you feel is her lust for living. And what makes the movie different from the women's pictures of the past is that there's no call for the heroine to be punished, and no suggestion that she shouldn't want more. Sweet Dreams doesn't step back from her; she's taken on her own terms.

“The big weakness in this kind of bio-pic is that once is it's on the rails… you can see where it's heading….

“…. Reisz… does beautiful work with Ann Wedgeworth and with Ed Harris. He doesn't interrupt Patsy Cline's songs, and he stays out of Jessica Lange's way. She doesn't have the opportunities for brilliant nuances that she had in the dud movie Frances, and her performance may not have the suggestion of worldly ripeness or the affecting qualities that Beverly D'Angelo brought to her few scenes as Patsy Cline in Coal Miner's Daughter, but when Lange's Patsy slings her strong young body around she gives off a charge. Lange has real authority here, and the performance holds you emotionally. This is one of the few times I've seen people cry at a movie that wasn't sentimental--it's an honest tearjerker. People can cry without feeling they've been had.”

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, October 21, 1985
Hooked, pp 48-51

James Wolcott

“After worrying herself to a limp frazzle Country, Jessica Lange wings around in Sweet Dreams, the Patsy Cline story, and gives a joyous, cut-loose performance. Dressed in cowgirl fringe, she's the queen of the rodeo. Patsy Cline was a country singer famous for her yips and growls, who, as she became comfortable in the recording studio, smoothed her tone until it was as pure and fleecy as a trail of vapor in a clear blue sky, yet her voice was never merely a brush of angel feathers. There was too much hard-knocking life in Patsy Cline for her to sound dainty and chaste. Firmly grounded, she knew how to attract lightning. . . . [The] biographical stuff Sweet Dreams handles dutifully, tearing off the months on the calendar with a dull, even rip. The excitement comes from Jessica Lange--it's her show. To the legend of Patsy Cline she restores the thrilling hellcat growl.

“When Natalia Makarova won a Tony award for her performance in On Your Toes, she thanked her husband at the rostrum, adding with dipsy charm, "He didn't actually help, but he didn't get in the way either." That's how I feel about Karel Reisz's direction in Sweet Dreams: he has the good sense to stay out of the way. With actors this "on" and dialogue this salty, he doesn't need to do elegant loops of calligraphy with the camera to sustain our interest. Just nail down the roof and clear a path for the whirlwind. Lange's Patsy Cline is a dynamo of female gumption, her will forged not by doctrine but by her own gutsy temperament. She's completely without armor or guile. When she's happy she hugs the clouds; when she's riled she throws herself such a pity party that her mother (played with tendercrust charm by Ann Wedgeworth) drawls, "Well, you can scream and claw your face, if you think that'll help." And when she tastes success she races ahead to the cry of "Let's go spend some money!" Everyone in Sweet Dreams is a big spender; it's a movie about people recklessly generous with their emotions and how one woman cleanses those emotions into song.

“The extraordinary thing about Lange's performance is that she is on her high horse nearly every moment of the film, yet nothing she does seems actressy or excessive or thought-through. When she lip-synchs Patsy Cline's songs she throws in a lot of body English without looking as if she's trying to upstage the numbers. It's Patsy Cline's blood she keeps circulating. Lange's mature build also helps. Sissy Spacek tended to get lost in Loretta Lynn's wigs in the grown-up sections of Coal Miner's Daughter. Lange breezes across the screen in Cline's long, sleeveless coats as if she's caught the wind in her sail….”

James Wolcott
Texas Monthly, December 1985

[note: Wolcott: ". . . Annette O'Toole's superb Tammy Wynette in Stand By Your Man"]

Molly Haskell

“Although there's plenty of excitement along the way, neither movie [Sweet Dreams or Marie] does much with the home vs. career conflict. The domestic drama seems imposed from without--attributes like accents, clothes and props, that validate the characters sociologically but fail to illuminate them from the inside. Is this the inability of the male director… to penetrate a woman's soul? Or is it the failure of British directors to get beneath the skin of small-town America? Probably both, but there's also the limitations imposed by real-life stories. The leap of imagination so essential to drama, the telling gesture that is either contrary to fact or true but unpalatable, is discouraged when stories are the stuff of yesterday's headlines and real people and their lawyers are standing by. (Of course, the exception that proves these rules is Coal Miner's Daughter . . . )

“Nothing could be more breathtaking than what Jessica Lange does with, and as, Patsy Cline. Gaudy, gorgeous and raunchy, with a shiny face and a high giggle, she rips into the role like a prizefighter and never looks back, giving the most exuberant performance of her versatile career.

“When she first appears in front of the mike of a little roadside tavern . . . and sings "Your Cheatin' Heart," . . . she is sensational. (The songs are all from Patsy Cline recordings, but Lange really seems to be singing them.) And later when she and Harris, as Charlie Dick, . . . dance their way into love, she brings back the whole atmosphere of a time and place and what it felt like to get "snowed" on the dance floor.

“No less engaging in a different way are Lange's scenes with Ann Wedgeworth as her supportive, no-nonsense mother. With the help of Robert Getchell's witty, earthy screenplay, these two women create one of the most eccentrically charming mother-daughter relationships in recent movies.

“So why does Sweet Dreams take a nose dive? [Haskell blames it on the familiarity of the story: the wife becomes a success, and the husband becomes violent. Haskell also notes that in the movie, Charlie Dick is "mostly a nice, sweet guy with an adorable smile who occasionally lapses into violence," as compared to the reportedly more troubling real-life model.] Because in real life Patsy Cline became a success and Charlie Dick became a wife beater, and so depressingly familiar is this oft-told tale of wretchedness that Cline's death, instead of being a tragic blows, comes almost as a relief from the vicious domestic cycle of violence, recrimination and regret.

“It may be that the story just can't be done; that only country music can rescue country love from the banality of masochism. In Karel Reisz's version, . . . there's a big hole where Ed Harris's character is supposed to be. Instead of being the wildcat hellraiser, abuser and womanizer that Charlie Dick was reported to be, he's mostly a nice, sweet guy with an adorable smile who occasionally lapses into violence….”

Molly Haskell
Playgirl, January 1986

Friday, April 08, 2005

Meryl Streep

WS: What's the role you wanted most that got away?  

MS:  I really loved that movie that Jessica Lange made, Sweet Dreams, about Patsy Cline. But I wasn't offered it, so it's not like it really got away. It was Jessica's from the beginning, even though (director Karel Reisz) was a good friend of mine. But I got his house in London in recompense when I was shooting Plenty. I said, "Well, if you weren't going to pick me for that, the least you can do is give me your house in Hampstead." And he did!

WS:  Was this before you'd proven you could sing in 1990's "Postcards From the Edge"?

MS:  Oh, I don't know. When I saw [Sweet Dreams] – this is the most important part of that story – I couldn't imagine doing it as well or even coming close to what Jessica did because she was so amazing in it.

--Meryl Streep, interviewed by Wolf Schneider, San Diego Union-Tribune, July 30, 2004

RC:  It's hard to imagine anyone else playing this character [in Doubt]. Has there ever been a role that got away from you -- for scheduling or whatever reason -- that you look back and wish you could have done?

MS:  Yeah, but I probably wouldn't have been as good as the person that did it.

RC:  Are you going to elaborate?

MS:  I've always loved Patsy Kline and I always wanted to do that story of her life. Jessica Lange did it and she was fantastic.

RC:  You got your chance at singing, though, in Mamma Mia?

MS:  Yeah, I got my chance 20 years later.

[Forgetting Postcards, not to mention Lange lipsynchs] 

--Meryl Streep, interviewed by Reelz

"...There have been movies that I have really, really, really, really, really wanted to do but they didn't want me and I went to see the movie and I thought, "They were right." Because... I mean, I think of Sweet Dreams that Jessica Lange did with Karel Reisz - and he was a friend of mine -- and he was the director and, yeah, he cast Jessica and I went to see that movie and I thought, "Nobody can do that better than that. I mean, it was divine. That's a great movie to check out."

 --Meryl Streep, interviewed by Andy Cohen, Watch What Happens Live, August 9, 2009

Q:  Have you ever envied anybody in your life?

MS:  Oh, yeah. I mean, yeah! I envied Jessica Lange when she got Sweet Dreams. That was such a great movie; she was beyond wonderful in it. I wished for things that I haven’t had, but I have to say my blessings are pretty great, so I have no complaints.

--Meryl Streep, The Talks, July 13, 2011