' ' Cinema Romantico: Top 5 Favorite Ashley Judd Performances

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Top 5 Favorite Ashley Judd Performances

To my mind, Ashley Judd has long been both an undervalued actress and overly viewed in the wrong light. For instance, in the wake of her recent appearance in “Divergent”, the site Hitfix listed the “good” and “bad” of the film and declared one of the “good” details to be…”Ashley Judd (having) a gun.” “Excuse me,” they opine, “but did I just have an early '00s Ashley Judd flashback? Did ‘Divergent’ turn into ‘Triple Jeopardy’ in the third act? I must not have been the only one who smiled when Judd's character unexpectedly kicks some ass as there were reports of cheers at the Los Angeles all-media press screening.”

That made me think of my blogging friend Vance’s comments at the conclusion of my long-winded essay regarding Emma Watson’s brilliant “This Is The End” cameo. He said: “I do almost feel like Hollywood's only idea about what to do with women these days is to make them badasses.” And continued: “On the surface, it's empowering -- see, this woman can kick ass just like, or better than, the guys. But without character development of said woman, it's just as objectifying in its own way.” I thought a lot about that comment, so much, in fact, that I failed to reply, because I could not quite figure out what I wished my reply to be. Until I saw that comment on Hitfix.

Now don’t get me wrong, Judd as badass is a wonderful thing, but the wonderful moment to which they refer in “Divergent” goes far beyond Judd simply having a gun. It’s a Mother demonstrating all-consuming love for the Daughter, just in an unconventional, ass-kicking way. It’s really quite beautiful. And despite the noise of the scene, Judd does not force the sequence’s subtext, simply playing it as an Everyday Heroic Mother in an Extraordinary Situation.

The misconception in pop culture is that Ms. Judd stars in all the Morgan Freeman movies. In fact, she and Freeman have starred in three (“Kiss the Girls”, “High Crimes”, “Dolphin Tale”). And woven into the DNA of the Morgan Freeman Misconception is also the misconception that Judd is at her best kicking ass and perhaps taking names, or perhaps not, when her chops as a dramatist are under-utilized and underrated. No longer. Today, Cinema Romantico, a longtime Ashley Judd fan, reveals its Top 5 Ashley Judd Performances.

Top 5 Favorite Ashley Judd Performances

Charlene Shiherlis, Heat 

As the wife of Val Kilmer’s “gambling junkie” Judd does not get much screen time but plays a vital role, and plays it raw and quietly unforgiving and in such a way as to not tip her hand until the very end what she truly feels toward her husband. When she does reveal what she truly feels, she reveals it in a drawn-breath of anguish, waving him away from a balcony, demonstrating in a split-second the ties – however painful – that bind. Yet, there is another moment here, a moment of the blink-and-you-might-miss-it variety. Michael Mann made this movie and he is known very much for his sleek doses of masculine adrenaline. I also think he is simultaneously and secretly a feminist. And this comes across when Robert DeNiro’s Neil spies Judd’s Charlene with another man, confronts her and then issues orders. Literal orders. “You will give Chris another chance.” Judd’s reply comes entirely via facial expression, cutting right through all Bobby D’s macho posturing. It’s an expression that says: “Can you BELIEVE this dumbass?”

Kitty, The Locusts

The part is essentially problematic, the requisite small-town beauty with whom Vince Vaughn’s drifter must fall in love so she can cure what ails him with her selfless love. Still, she suggests a depth beyond the confines of the screen, a character with an existence apart from the primary storyline but willing to wade into the muck of the protagonist’s life because she can see the good in him and that life experience has taught her to value the good. It is never more apparent than in a scene between her and Flyboy (Jeremy Davies), fresh out of the mental institution, whom Vaughn has befriended, in which the two share a dance. "Thank you for the date,” Kitty says. “It was the best one I ever had.'' It’s not simply sweet – it’s genuine. It drips in genuineness. It’s a line spoken by a woman who might have taken Lloyd Dobler’s advice to “decide to be in a good mood” and run with it forever and ever. It will make you smile. It will break your goddam heart.

Ruby Lee Gissing, Ruby In Paradise

Victor Nunez’s film of wondrous patience is sort of a slice of Floridian Neo-Realism, Judd’s Ruby fleeing Tennessee for Florida and attempting to begin anew. This was essentially Judd’s first film role – that is, if you don’t count her immortal turn as “Wife Of Paint Store Owner” in “Kuffs” – which makes the turn that much more impressive because she never resorts to grandstanding to, as they say, make her reel. What’s the other saying? Ah yes. Still Waters Run Deep. Judd’s Ruby is the living, breathing essence of that phrase, and that, I think, is her greatest gift as an actress – outwardly placid, inwardly emotional. In other words, she can ably evoke introversion which, as an introvert, is likely what endears her to me so much. Ruby Lee Gissing is one of the greatest screen introverts, and Judd gets across how every story detail, every character interaction takes her on the path toward the first step to becoming who she wants to be. It sounds simple. It’s anything but. (Psssssssssst.....you can watch the full film here. And you should totally do it.)

Agnes White, Bug

Playing opposite the incomparable Michael Shannon at his Shannon-est is an arduous task but Judd is up to it, and she is up to because she does not so much attempt to mimic or match his manic energy as cultivate her own sense of longing desperation. Her character, holed up in a motel, depressed over the five year disappearance of her son, has more or less surrendered to life until Shannon’s drifter shows up and immediately begins talking crazy of some bug infestation. If Shannon always seems unhinged, we are less certain about Judd, and what has always stayed with me about her performance is how she turns Agnes’s psychosis into a release. The final act of madness, God help me, is as peaceful as it is terrifying.

Lucy Fowler, Come Early Morning

In a sense, this is a variation of her role in “Ruby In Paradise”, exchanging Florida for Arkansas, but whereas Ruby was hopeful, Lucy marinates in bitterness and easygoing self-destruction. In fact, it’s almost what might have happened to Ruby had she not escaped Tennessee – the way a place and the people, the same people, over and over, can subtly wear a person down and leave him or her mired in a rut of which they may not even be completely aware. She reaches out to her attempting-to-make-amends father, sort of, but won’t really reach out to anyone else. And even when she starts to as the film progresses, there is a defensiveness, an edginess, and it’s crucial. Empathy isn’t necessarily on Judd’s mind, which is a choice I always respect in the right context, and instead she’s like a woman trying to battering ram her way to self-actualization. It’s introspection without a real introspective character. She gets somewhere by the end, but Judd shows how that journey can be a crawl, and as frustrating as fulfilling.


Lexi said...

Phew, I was getting nervous Lucy Fowler wasn't on there... but alas she is!

Nick Prigge said...

Of course! Never fear! Lucy's our gal!