Monday, September 14, 2009

With 'HUSH', Jessica Lange hurls herself into Grande Dame Guignol cinema with delicious results. We just dare you to try and stifle your giggles.

Anyone who's witnessed Joan Crawford’s female impersonation in Johnny Guitar realizes that it spoiled her for any “normal” roles forever after, while Faye Dunaway’s loony one-woman floor show in Mommie Dearest (playing Joan Crawford) altered her once stellar career into one as a roving mercenary actress in films as disparate and desperate as Supergirl, The Temp and Dunston Checks In. For Jessica Lange the film that transformed her from a critical darling into a misshapen, overblown character out of Tennessee Williams or William Castle is Jonathan Darby's daft potboiler HUSH. We defy anyone not to giggle as Lange waltzes around in jodhpurs playing Martha Baring, the head of a large Kentucky horse ranch called Kilronan.

When Lange's upper-crust hunk of a son, (bland Johnathon Schaech) arrives at Kilronan with his wide-eyes and his void-of-a-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow in tow for a down-home Christmas, Lange flares her nostrils incestuously, regarding poor Paltrow as merely a vessel for Schaech's child and simply not the "right" woman for her little man. Naturally, when she finds Gwyneth lounging naked in her son's room (instead of in her assigned spot in the guest bedroom), Lange leaves nothing to chance and puncture's Paltrow's diaphragm. (well, wouldn't you?) The kids leave but soon Paltrow finds herself preggers, and - for reasons to convoluted to explain - they return to the bowels of Kentucky to wait out the trimesters. Oh no!

Lange immediately takes possession of Schaech and Paltrow like Hitler invading Poland. A visit by Gwyneth to grandma Nina Foch, (a game old broad who knows where all the bodies are buried), reveals Lange's evil past and the suspicions surrounding the death of her husband. From then on, Lange turns into a psychopathic harridan. With the aid of powerful horse medication, she succeeds in inducing Paltrow's pregnancy. The result is a harrowing home-birth sequence that will forever after give natural childbirth advocates a bad name. This ordeal finally ignites Paltrow's anger. When she is able to walk upright again (a mere 24 hours later!), she goes hunting for Lange and revenge.

Movies this bad can't happen by accident, and Lange (who must have realized she didn't have a campy-psychotic role under her belt yet), treats us to some of the funniest scenes involving rats, horses, pregnant women and naked old ladies that you'll ever want to see. She drawls, vamps and guzzles the scenery with gusto. It's like she's competing in a late career Bette Davis contest and Glenn Close just took the lead.

But the true find here is Johnathon Schaech. Actually, his acting talent is tougher to spot here than his name is to spell. But if they ever decide to make a film entitled "Barbie & Ken: The Genitalia Experiment", here's your Ken.

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