Hey, don’t get me wrong, Jessica Lange has been very good in a number of movies — Sweet Dreams, Frances, Tootsie, and even her underrated film debut, the 1976 King Kong — but isn’t it a bit early to give her one of these Cinemax career retrospectives?
Maybe not. As is usual with this series, It’s Only Make-Believe is little more than a commercial for its subject, with new interview material combined with clips from her movies. But once past the polite-star banalities that celebrities seem to think we want to hear — that the most important thing in her life is her family, that she feels ”blessed” to be an actress — we learn that the steely, proper Lange we see today was a flower child of the ’60s who spent her late adolescence traveling the country in a van with her boyfriend. She lived in communes and even, for heaven’s sake, worked as a street mime in Paris.
Then, too, the obligatory trot through Lange’s films yields some intriguing moments. Bob Rafelson is interviewed about directing Lange in the 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice and notes that it was difficult to prepare the actress for the brute intensity of the film’s sex scenes; this is immediately followed by Lange laughing and saying how easy it was to play those scenes. Whose version of this do you buy?
It’s fun to watch a few quick scenes of Lange working on Martin Scorsese’s hotly anticipated remake of Cape Fear, and it’s a kick to hear her dismiss her 1982 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Tootsie as a ”consolation prize” for not winning Best Actress that year for Frances — ”it’s all weird political sentimental bull with those awards,” she says blithely.
The best thing about It’s Only Make-Believe is that it gives the lie to the false modesty of its title: It is clear that, like all good artists, Lange understands that make-believe is all-important. B+