Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Recasting 1992: "Blue Sky"

Up to this point in my recasting project, I don't think I've bumped any film greater than one year forward or back from its original release date. But this week's example is sort of a special case. It's widely known that Jessica Lange won her only Lead Actress Academy Award for her performance as a bipolar housewife for Blue Sky in 1995. But the movie was actually filmed in mid 1990, shelved after the bankruptcy of Orion pictures forced them to delay its release until 1994. Incidentally, this happened to be three years after the director, Tony Richardson, passed away due to complications from AIDS. 

What a history! And I haven't even described how Meryl fits in. Let's start with the role itself. It's sort of what I've come to understand as a quintessential Jessica Lange role: Sex appeal with a hint of crazy. See Frances, Crimes of the Heart, Feud, The Politican. Lange has said herself she's fascinated by characters on the brink of madness, and it certainly shows in her filmography. Meryl, on the other hand, surprisingly doesn't seem to portray too many characters with mental illness. Plenty, Postcards from the Edge (maybe?). Some might make a case for Ironweed and August: Osage County, but it's probably a stretch. 

The lead in Blue Sky is of Carly Marshall. She's married to Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), who's a nuclear engineer in the military in 1962. Carly feels stifled by the banality of life on an army base when the family has to move from Hawaii to Alabama. She's a bit of a vamp, which tends to embarrass Hank, who finds himself making excuses for her when she behaves in a way that isn't necessarily perceived as befitting an army wife. 

Already this seems like a role we'd be surprised to see Meryl do. She made it a point early on in her career to not accept roles that could pigeonhole her into a certain kind of actress. It wouldn't have been too difficulty for her to fall into the sort of suffering girlfriend, like we saw in The Deer Hunter. Unlike Lange, Meryl has never really been cast for her looks. Not that she couldn't be, she's beautiful. But she's always been more inclined to be a character actress. Had this role in Blue Sky come along in 1989 (remember, it was filmed in '90), I think it could've been a very interesting opportunity for Meryl. Imagine her turning forty and coming across this script. What a great way to sort of show off how you've still "got it" than to portray someone as beguiling as Carly? For Lange it seems like second nature. For Meryl, I think it would be a stretch, which is why it would be so amazing to watch!

What a contrast in personality between this character and Evelyn Couch from Fried Green Tomatoes. Had this filmed like it originally did in 1990, it would've been planned for a release the same year as Fried Green Tomatoes. But let's just pretend that Blue Sky someone how found it's way to the light of day two years after its release instead of four. Either way, it would've been on either side of Fried Green Tomatoes, and the contrast in roles in back to back years would only serve to make the fact that they were portrayed by the same person that much more exciting. 

The film overall did fairly well with critics. But Lange was the real story here, winning both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, among a half a dozen other nominations from critics groups and the Screen Actors Guild.  


  1. Fascinating choice Jeff! The movie wasn't praised as widely as Jessica's performance - a bit like Meryl and "The Iron Lady". At this stage in Meryl's career it would have been very interesting to see her play this sort of "aged" trophy wife who has significant psychological issues.

    What is your opinion of the quality of the movie?

    1. The movie is decent. Joe and I watched it a few months ago and we liked it. For me the interesting parts are the characters, and most are a little pathetic in a way. Which is interesting. If felt very early 90s in its cinematography. If you haven't seen it, I'd take the time.

    2. That's one of the most interesting aspects of this - I watch new (but known to me) movies and think of what Meryl could do in the role. I do know that 1994 is considered one of the weakest Best Actress Oscar races but I'm glad Lange got her recognition.

      I personally feel if "Dolores Claiborne" was released earlier it should have swept. I would love to slide Meryl into that role but even to me she would have miscast as downtrodden Dolores.

      For 1993 I would obviously have love "Six Degrees Of Separation" but realise that was already covered in 2014's revised filmography. "The Remains Of The Day" we've mourned too long.

      To dib for something different, I'll go for "Manhattan Murder Mystery", a well received comedy drama which would be unique to Meryl's filmography at this point.

    3. I tend to agree about Delores Clairbourne, actually. It's a fantastic role and in hindsight I'm amazed it wasn't nominated. Totally on board with Six Degrees, but yes, won't be my choice in 'this' section of my recasting project as outlined in my previous comments.

  2. Love it, great idea! The thing I enjoyed about 'Death Becomes Her' was Meryl Streep glamming up, and her characterisation shows how easily she could have slipped into Evelyn Couch territory, which is basically Tennessee-Williams-heroine.

    For 1993 I am picking a re-worked 'Sleepless in Seattle' with Nora Ephron writing and directing a brilliant screenplay in which Tom Hanks falls for an older woman, who falls for his voice before she meets him, and thereby makes predictable fare infinitely more interesting!

    1. Whoa, great reimagined choice for Sleepless.

    2. Or better yet, Streep plays the Tom Hanks part, in a gender-swapped cast!

  3. P.S. I don't know whether I grieve 'Shadowlands' more than 'Remains of the Day'? My radar for Streep information was always set on high, and I recall reading her exasperation about not even being able to get a meeting with Richard Attenborough to be considered for the role of Joy Gresham.

    I was living in London at the time and Streep travelled there to promote 'The House of the Spirits', dropped in at Andrew Lloyd Webber's estate to see the rehearsed 'read' of 'Sunset Boulevard' (which set off Patti LuPone no end), and was interviewed by the UK's establishment film critic Barry Norman in a special episode of his show, during which he really pushed her on what was going on with her career!

    She was flustered, wearing watches for two timezones (her young kids were at home in LA I guess?), and she stared him down with gracious explanations about where the teams for these films had come undone. The most memorable was how Susan Seidelman had been frightened of having cancer for the whole of the 'She Devil' shoot but turned out to be pregnant! They also changed the script from the BBC adaptation, which Streep had been very drawn to.

    Norman also grilled her on her speech to SAG about roles for women a couple of years earlier, and Meryl made one of her classic quips to journos, saying she was 'Fru-Streep-ed' about the industry. Funny, and revealing.

    I blame Debra Winger for dropping out of 'A League of Their Own' when Madonna was cast in that film! (not really, but it was all part of living through these years, the disappointment was real!)

    1. So much to unpack here. First off, your wilderness years article is what brought me to Shadowlands in 2013 and I LOVE that movie. Meryl would've done a brilliant job in that film.

      Tell me more about the Patty Lupone thing. She didn't like that Meryl stopped by the rehearsal?!

      I've read that Meryl tends to defend She-Devil to Brits by reminding them that it's really an adaptation of a story from the UK.

      I love Meryl's out-of-breath speech for her Doubt win at SAG. She really seemed surprised and she was SO happy. I'm convinced that she absolutely loves getting awards.

      I wonder about Winger in A League of Their Own. That film was shot in mid '91, while Shadowlands was shot in early '93. Not sure if her exit from the former made her available for the latter, thus preventing Meryl from having a shot at Joy Gresham??

  4. When I wrote that piece I tried to find a source for Streep's comment about not being able to meet Attenborough, but I couldn't, so I had to leave it out.

    Patti LuPone was also interviewed about 'Sunset Boulevard' around that time and mentioned she'd seen Streep in the audience of the rehearsed reading, and said something like: "She'll get to do the film version!". Much later, LuPone confirmed that she trashed her London dressing room... as in totally trashed it and walked off the show before a performance while the audience was taking their seats, when she read in an industry news source that Glenn Close was to play the lead in LA; so she was prickly about actresses circling her role.

    'She-Devil' was, of course, based on Fay Wheldon's feminist novella 'The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil', which was adapted into an incredible BBC series (in which Miriam Margolyes had an early role). The story of Mary Fisher in that is extremely different to the Hollywood version, particularly in the end (I won't spoil it for you, it's on YouTube) and you can see why Streep wanted to play the role that way.

    And re: Winger, I am only making fun... I like to think her pulling out of 'A League of Their Own' set off a chain reaction in lead roles for women in that era. Maybe I'm only half wrong? Maybe Streep caused it by not going ahead on 'Thelma and Louise' without Goldie? Maybe she caused it by pulling out of 'Evita'? We'll probably never know unless Streep writes about it.

    Fingers crossed!