Jun 25

“The Great Lillian Hall”: Will Dementia Stop the Show?

The Great Lillian Hall is a new HBO Max film about an acclaimed theater actress (the great Jessica Lange) who faces a diagnosis of Lewy body dementia.

Notably, writer Elisabeth Seldes Annacone loosely based her script on Marian Seldes (1928-2014), her late aunt who had the same disorder and was also a stage legend.

Peter Travers, ABC, describes Lillian’s current life and the cast of characters around her:

Lillian’s support system includes a daughter (Lily Rabe) she’s neglected since childhood, the living memory of her late theater director husband (Michael Rose), a neighbor (Pierce Brosnan) she flirts with on her Manhattan terrace, and her long-time, long suffering assistant Edith (Oscar winner Kathy Bates, magnificent as usual) whose tough love she truly needs.

Of course, the lifeline Lillian needs most is the theater. She gets sympathy from her young Turk director (Jesse Williams), but only cold impatience from her producer (Cindy Hogan), who’d fire Lillian in a heartbeat if the play’s box office wouldn’t crater instantly.

Pete Hammond, Deadline: “Rabe, whose theatre credentials go back to being the daughter of the late Jill Clayburgh and playwright David Rabe, is perfectly cast here as the daughter who fights against the idea that she was always second to her mother’s love of theatre. She gets a fiery emotional scene confronting her mother about why she was not told about her condition, and she delivers it authentically.”

(See my previous post “An Unmarried Woman” for a sense of Jill Clayburgh‘s work.)

Where does Lillian go from here? Christian Zilko, Indiewire: “…(I)f she can’t memorize lines anymore, she faces the possibility of losing her life’s work without anything to show for it. So against the advice of her doctors and family, she decides to put everything she has into rehearsals with the hope of taking the stage one last time.”

See the trailer below:

Selected Reviews

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Times: Besides its elegant handling of the parallels between Lillian’s character and her own life, the movie’s most interesting gambit is the way it breaks from the lazy habit of portraying stars as narcissistic, destructive monsters…(S)he is also capable of kindness and loyalty, along with a pleasurable wit.”

Brian Lowry, CNN: “…(T)he film doesn’t turn over new ground but nevertheless yields poignant moments, primarily in the interplay between Lange – a fierce lioness in winter, hungry for one more curtain call – and Bates, who could play this part in her sleep and still makes the most of it.”

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: “There are a couple of scenes that tap into the agony of dementia (and Lange, at those moments, is powerful), but ‘The Great Lillian Hall’ is mostly a feel-good movie about using acting to turn the lemons life hands you into a grand illusion of lemonade.”

Oct 31

“Dolores Claiborne”: A Different Kind of Horror Film

This is a horror story, all right, but not a supernatural one; all of the elements come out of such everyday horrors as alcoholism, wife beating, child abuse and the sin of pride. Roger Ebert, reviewing Dolores Claiborne

Generally classified as either a psychological thriller or crime fiction or suspense or mystery, the 1995 film Dolores Claiborne, which was based on the bestselling book by Stephen King, is often considered underrated and undernoticed.

I saw it way back when, liked it, but now don’t have enough recall to be able to describe it adequately. Interestingly, a search for reviews/summaries found that almost all were of the male-written variety. Although many of the critiques were favorable, I have to wonder if this female-powered process-oriented movie with themes of mistreatment by men would have fared better had it gotten more press by women.

Oh well. At least Dolores lives on—not only can it still be seen in the comfort of your home but King’s book has recently been adapted for the opera stage in San Francisco.

Another interesting fact? King wrote the book with Misery maven Kathy Bates in mind as the lead character. And Bates did, in fact, wind up playing her in the movie. Brian Lowry, Variety, summarizes the plot and lead characters/actors:

Accused of murdering the old woman for whom she’s cared the past 22 years, Dolores is forced to confront her estranged daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the mysterious death two decades earlier of her abusive husband, deemed an accident at the time despite the suspicions of the detective involved (Christopher Plummer).

Leigh’s Selena is a high-strung magazine writer who still blames her mother for the death of her father (David Strathairn), who, through a series of flashbacks, is shown to be a truly despicable character.

You can watch the trailer here:

Another source, jtonzelli.com, addresses why Dolores Claiborne belongs in the realm of horror: “While Dolores Claiborne is not a traditional horror film per se, horrific themes are definitely at play here. There is an unrelenting darkness, along with several disturbing scenes that lend itself to our genre. While it may not be about horrific creatures that hide in the dark, it is very much about horrific human beings and what they are capable of doing to people they claim to love. It is about the horror of memory, time, betrayal, and so many other weaknesses that make humanity just as flawed as we are intriguing.”

If you prefer your horror to be of the more realistic type, then, Dolores Claiborne just could be your cup of poison tea.