October 15, 1984 12:00 PM

As co-producer and star of Country, Jessica Lange shows a commitment to her subject—the plight of the contemporary American farm family—that infuses every frame. After several studio turndowns, Lange persuaded Walt Disney Productions to make the film through its Touchstone division. But don’t fear a sugar overdose. Just as in Splash, the first Touchstone release, there are blessed few examples here of cosmetically applied wholesomeness. In fact the film begins when Lange discovers a condom in her teenage son’s room and tries to keep a straight face while confronting him. The kids in this Iowa family are as feisty as their crusty granddad, Wilford (The Natural) Brimley. And though Lange shows deference to her husband, playwright-actor Sam (The Right Stuff) Shepard, she’s no doormat. Cooking breakfast with pink curlers in her hair, Lange is sassy and sexy. How refreshing to see a farm woman portrayed as something other than a taciturn drone. Real sparks fly between Lange and Shepard, and that’s understandable considering their offscreen romantic relationship. While these early family scenes are wonderfully appealing, the film takes a serious turn when the federal government starts calling in loans it made to farmers. Shepard’s frustrations lead him to drink and desertion. So Lange takes hold, rallying her children and the farm community. Red-faced from the cold, Lange delivers an eloquently powerful climactic explosion against injustice, making her an early Oscar favorite. But the film isn’t always as surefooted. Reducing the government agency officials who force foreclosure to a collection of cardboard villains distorts a complex issue. The naïveté of farmers who buy more than they can afford is only suggested, too. Perhaps Country was thrown off-kilter when screenwriter William (Raggedy Man) Wittliff was replaced as director by Richard (Heartland) Pearce after Wittliff’s differences with Lange and Shepard proved insurmountable. One fierce argument between Shepard and his son, beautifully played by newcomer Levi Knebel, has the disturbing primal edge often associated with the playwright’s work. As an actor, Shepard is altogether remarkable in a difficult role. When he and Lange focus on the small details of farm life, they make Country come alive. (PG)

You May Like