Back in October, I tried to start an Oscar-campaign for Ashley Judd, I wrote this piece and sent it to several blogs but it was completely ignored (to be fair, my not-so-perfect English could have had something to do with it). She was truly magnificent in Helen but in the end, she couldn't even get on the map. Too bad, hopefully the next time she delivers a brilliant performance l, the Academy will take notice...finally. Until then, she has an ABC-drama series (Missing), a promising family drama (Dolphin Tale) and a quirky little indie (Flypaper).
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION : ASHLEY JUDD IN HELEN
There is a lot you can say about Ashley Judd’s film career. A lot of good. A lot of bad. Sure, she has never been a huge Box Office draw, her only solo hit was ’Double Jeopardy’, a film originally intended for Jodie Foster. Sure she has made some bad movies, sure she never made a universally praised one with the exception of her breakthrough, ’Ruby in Paradise’. All true. But there is one thing, people still seem to forget : Ashley Judd is nonetheless, a GREAT actress. From time to time, she delivers such strong performances, that one has to wonder : where is all the recognition ?
In 1993, she started her career with ’Ruby in Paradise’, a wonderful little indie film that won over critics and instantly put the stunning actress on the map. Although there was considerable Oscar-talk about her performance at the time, the film proved to be too small and too inde, in the end, so Judd had to settle with an Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead – still an impressive achievement for a rookie. The film also went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
In 1996, she went for the iconic role of Marilyn Monroe, although that’s not exactly correct. She played Norma Jean Dougherty, the pre-Hollywood Marilyn Monroe. It was a TV-project titled ’Norma Jean & Marilyn’, it wasn’t the best-received one for sure, but the two lead swere critically acclaimed, and Judd once again found herself on prestigious shortlists. She was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
Then came a small detour, when she suddenly started accepting leads in crime-thrillers, seriously risking typecasting. Although Kiss the girls and Double Jeopardy were financial hits and even High Crimes pulled in respectable, though unspectacular numbers, the critics were not convinced. Judd gave it another try with Twisted, but its overwhelmingly negative reception seemingly convinced her to give up the genre.
In 2002, she was the part of the stunning ensemble cast of ’Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood’. Although the film once again didn’t meet universal critical praise, the audience embraced it, and Judd’s performance was often mentioned as the best part of the movie. And it was, she showed incredible range in the role of a bitter Southern Belle. Her turn was truly memorable and indeed the best thing about the whole project. Although the Phoenix Film Critics Society was smart enough to nominate her in their best supporting actress category, otherwise this greatly underrated performance was left off the Awards-shortlists.
In 2004, she accepted the part of Linda Porter in the Cole Porter-biopic, simply titled ’De-Lovely’. The film once again received lukewarm reception, and Judd’s understated performance was only recognized by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who awarded the actress her second Golden Globe nomination.
In 2006, she did what a lot of people had been waiting for a long time : she returned to her roots. ’Come Early Morning’ was exactly the kind of little indie that put her on the map in the first place, and once again helped her prove the point, that she is indeed a serious, and even more, a seriously great actress. Reviews were kind to the film, and Judd herself received several raves. Once again she showed unexpected depth and range. Once again, nobody cared.
In 2007, she changed it up and went on to star in a psychological horror, titled ’Bug’. Strangely enough, the critics supported this one, it was the audience, who hated it. Although everybody could agree on one thing : Judd’s performance was phenomenal. But a lof of factors that had nothing to do with her individual achievement, got in the way of getting any kind of recognition for her work. The film was an early, limited release with unspectacular Box Office and mixed critical reception.
It’s 2010 and we have another fantastic Ashley Judd-performance presented to us. She plays a clinically depressed music teacher in ’Helen’, a film that got such a limited theatrical release stateside that it was basically non-existent at a level that you can hardly find reviews about it. It had to be enough, though to qualify the actress for awards recognition. In my humble opinion she gives the performance of her career in this film. Her turn is so powerful, vulnerable and emotionally raw, that you have to wonder : how is this performance NOT on the map at this point ? Unfortunately it seems that once again factors she is not responsible for, will cost Judd another Awards-season. The film is virtually DOA: it was screened at Sundance almost 2 years ago (that’s like a light year in Hollywood-time); the film as a whole received mixed reviews, although Judd was praised; the distributor is tiny and there won’t be any awards campaigns; the Box Office is non-existent. A lot of damaging factors, that have absolutely nothing to do with the brilliant work Ashley Judd delivered in this film.
Whatever happens this year, whatever performances come along, in my opinion her ’Helen’ will be one of the best in 2010 and I can only hope that important Awards-organizations will take notice and prove that they are not all about release dates, buzz, hype, campaign, star-power and Box Office. I genuinely believe, if they nominate the contenders simply based on performances, Ashley Judd should be definitely a strong contender. But at least a contender. Something she is not at the moment. Although she most certainly should be.
“As Helen, a successful music professor and contented wife and mother, Ashley Judd is, initially, gleamingly serene. But as the first ripples of sadness swell to a paralyzing crescendo of distress, she never loses her grip on a character that is unrelentingly embattled.”
The New York Times
“Ashley Judd's performance as the title character, a middle-aged woman apparently living the good life but nonetheless suffering from chronic suicidal depression, is nothing short of riveting. I could not take my eyes off her for a second. Her no-holds-barred portrayal brought me closer than was comfortable to feeling what it must be like to be severely depressed... Ashley Judd is in every way believable as we watch her character sink deeper and deeper into a maelstrom of terror and loneliness.”
The Huffington Post
„Judd’s sensitive rendering of Helen’s relapse makes for initially hypnotic viewing. Looking careworn, ravaged and deeply anguished throughout, Judd (who has spoken out about her own experiences with depression) manifests Helen’s spiritual and emotional suffering as an almost physical state, one that’s almost as unbearable for the audience as it is for the character... A brave, affecting turn by Ashley Judd”
„Judd, who has been public about her own periodic bouts of depression, offers a properly restrained, sympathetic portrait of a woman, interrupted.”
The Globe and Mail