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USA 1984
Directed by
Richard Pearce
105 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


Recovering from her inauspicious screen debut in King Kong  (1976), Jessica Lange rapidly established her reputation with a clutch of strong films with compelling female characters - Frances and Tootsie, both in1982, preceded by The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981). With Country, ironically a film close to her heart (she conceived and co-produced it with its writer William D. Wittliff) her run came to a halt. This is especially disappointing as her co-star and real-life squeeze (they met during the shooting of Frances) Sam Shepard was the acknowledged poet laureate of the American Mid-West,the setting for this story. You’d think that he would have said something about his own part if nothing else.

Based on real events during the early 1980s,Lange plays Jewell Ivy who with her husband, Gil (Shepard), father, Otis (Wilford Brimley) and three children lives on a small farm in Iowa. They are struggling to avoid foreclosure and are on the brink of losing what has been in the family for a hundred years. As the bank closes in and her family comes apart Ivy is left to save the day single-handedly.

As much as one empathises with the condemnation of the economic rationalist policies that were destroying real people’s lives at the time Country is formulaic in its earnest Norman Rockwellish championing of all-American family values with Lange as its poster girl. In many ways the film's single word title, with its immediate cloud of preferred connotations exemplifies the simplistic approach. To this end, Shepard’s Gil, with very little apparent inducement, not only hits the bottle but their eldest son,while Brimley in his umpteenth iteration of a loveable old ("near-senile",cynics might say) Gramps stumps around with self-righteous anger but nothing else to offer. With these two useless men it is down to Jewell to save the day which, needless to say she does.

Lange goes at her part with dedication but her Jewell is too clearly a paragon of indomitable womanly virtues and the production too televisually tidy to have bite as a depiction of real suffering.  Fortunately, she returned to form the following year with an Oscar-nominated performance in the Patsy Cline biopic, Sweet Dreams

FYI: To see this sort of material done much better check out Robert Benton's Places In The Heart (1984)




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