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Total Count: 28


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As played by Jessica Lange, Frances Farmer is a rebel from the word go, winning a high school essay award by writing a piece in defense of Communism. Determining to become an actress, Frances is equally determined not to play the Hollywood game: she refuses to acquiesce to idiotic publicity stunts, and insists upon appearing on screen sans makeup. Her defiance attracts the attention of Broadway playwright Clifford Odets, who convinces Frances that her future rests with the Group Theatre. But once she leaves Hollywood for New York, Frances learns to her chagrin that the Group intends to exploit her movie fame in order to draw in customers. Her desperate attempts to restart her movie career, combined with her increasing dependence on alcohol and the pressures brought to bear by her monster mother (Kim Stanley), result in a complete mental breakdown. Even while institutionalized, Frances is abused by the powers-that-be; she is forced to undergo an injurious brain operation, is treated like a mad animal, and periodically raped by the inmates. Frances is released in the custody of her mother, who persists in browbeating her tortured daughter until Frances discovers the legal means to break away. The real-life Frances spent her last years as host of a local Indianapolis TV program, dying in 1970 at age 57; the film comes to a climax when Frances is feted on the smarmy network program This is Your Life. Other actual personages depicted herein include Clifford Odets (played by Jeffrey DeMunn), Harold Clurman (Jordan Charney) and Ralph Edwards (Donald Craig). Frances' first husband Leif Erickson is fictionalized as "Jeffrey York", and played by Lange's real-life inamorata Sam Shepard. And if you listen closely, you'll hear the voice of Kevin Costner, whose minor role was whittled down to one line when he, like Frances Farmer, had the temerity to argue with the director. The unhappy life of actress Frances Farmer was also covered in Farmer's autobiography, Will There Ever Be a Morning? While the film rights for that book were sold to a TV-movie concern, the producers of the theatrical feature Frances were able to ship their production out to the public first.


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Critic Reviews for Frances

All Critics (28) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (18) | Rotten (10)

  • There was material for a profound human tragedy in her life, but three writers were unable to uncover it. The result is an almost ludicrous parody of the Old Hollywood.

    Nov 12, 2018 | Full Review…
  • Jessica Lange brings so much energy and personal involvement to her portrayal of Frances Farmer that you can't help but feel sorry for her; nothing else in the film remotely matches her talent and dedication.

    Mar 9, 2015 | Full Review…
  • It's quite an accomplishment for Jessica Lange and it's too bad a better film didn't come of it.

    Mar 26, 2009 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • Farmer, as scripted here and played by Lange, unsurprisingly remains something of a cypher.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…
  • Jessica Lange plays Frances Farmer in a performance that is so driven, that contains so many different facets of a complex personality, that we feel she has an intuitive understanding of this tragic woman.

    Oct 23, 2004 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • [Frances] is such a mixed up movie that it still seems to be unfinished, as if Graeme Clifford, the director, and the writers hadn't yet discovered the real point of the Frances Farmer story.

    Aug 30, 2004

Audience Reviews for Frances

  • Aug 28, 2013
    Jessica Lange is really terrific as Frances Farmer. Hers is a story that I was not familiar with and was glad to have known about it afterwards. A true rebel with heart.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 08, 2012
    A beautiful actress with a rebellious streak is plagued by perceived mental illness. Jessica Lange, who received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for this role, delivers a gut-wrenching performance in the title role. Her free-spirited portrayal of healthy Frances is tempered by the film's plot, which puts her through the barbarity that we once called medicine in mental health. Sam Shepard is also quite strong as one of Frances's few supporting friends. It may be that the film can't fashion a believable narrative out of the facts, but the idea that Frances would go back to her mother after many of the events the film depicts defies all we know about the character, and her meager excuse that "She's still my mother" in the words of Rocky the Flying Squirrel "Just doesn't wash." Overall, regardless of its plot-related flaws, you should see this film if only for Lange who plumbs emotional depths to produce a tragically wounded character.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Aug 08, 2010
    The film starts as a standard biopic, charting the success of actress Frances Farmer in all her mundane glory. There are scenes of her atheism, lack of fear towards becoming a social outcast when she journeys to Communist Russia, and a very quick rise to prominence at a major studio. These are the trivial aspects to the rebellious Farmer, not wanting to be labeled a Hollywood starlet, but instead a Broadway actress, even starring in a play while staying out of the press' spotlight. It's when she becomes blacklisted by her former Hollywood studio and forced to leave the stage for low budget B-movies that Farmer cracks, leading to arrests on the charge of assault and battery, trying to force the men keeping her from doing what she wants to look at her as outspoken. Still, Farmer's antics become outrageous and erratic, screaming at police officers, psychiatrists, and her own mother. Her exploits are spread across the papers, and her only recourse seems to be more screaming and physical violence towards everyone around her. In these instances there is an element of over the top Hollywood spin on the film, to create more drama. The thing that makes this film amazing, is Farmer's relationship with her mother, who continually admits her to filthy mental hospitals, from which her daughter runs away with her longtime boyfriend, Harry. In the final part of the film, we are finally shown an act that diminishes everything Farmer strode for: independence, her own voice, her own life. It's taken away, and replaced by mild temperament and neutral stance. It's quite a powerful scene, and anyone who watches will be terrified by society and their lengths to keep outspokenness in the Dark Ages. Dramatic and wild, Frances is hard to swallow, but captivating to watch.
    Spencer S Super Reviewer
  • Sep 12, 2008
    "frances" is a flick based on 1930s rebel actress frances farmer whose life and great potentiality were wasted horridly in mental institution. (raped, marred and lobotomized.)and "frances" is obviously the homage to the un-compromising individuality of frances farmer who lived beyond her time, a sound proof of social intolerance to outrageous candidness on woman. and there's a great sense of anachronism in the character of frances farmer who propels her tale of "one flew over cuckoo's nest" or female james dean way too early in this world. once a feministic author(possibly simone du bouvir) utters that society holds an enormous grudge against the woman who possesses both talent and beauty in the same time. (worse off, if she also has the edgy "IT") such woman is doomed to be ruptured by patriarchal society. beauty makes her the object of covetous desire for men, but her ego keeps her from being the willing puppet for chauvinistic sex commodity and hostility aroused around. then a misdemeanor leaves you into being diagnosed as schizophrenic, and you're F**KED. it takes gutsy pride to announce oneself as an atheist in public speech competition at the time frances farmer lived, and she even earns a prize as well as notoriety for it in her adolescence, a teenage girl who dares to shout out "god is not there!" then avidly ambitious frances shifts her aspiration from writing to acting since it's more immediate cannon for her spunk and wits. with her porcelain skin and statuesque looks, she reaches hollywood stardom which she rebuffs for its lack of depth, and it infuriates the mgm studio when she decides to nullify her movie contract for stage. her life begins to collapse when her beloved stage director, whom she was having an affair with, doublecross her together with the studio, dismissing her with an informative note about his wife's arrival. this event of heart-break detonates the frances' explosive nature then it leads to the accusation of mental illness. her doom ensues. firstly, she tries to offend the police officers who rudely abducts her from her private bathroom as well as the press by claiming her occupation is "c***s**ker". her proficiency of verbal defense/offense sinks her into even more severe discrimination. secondly, her rebellion against her overbearing mother who reports her whereabouts to the mad house, isolates her further. thirdly, the injustice of mental institution is sickeningly exploitative, and in one scene, she's ravished by numerous soldiers who buy off the guardian for their filthy privilege. "20 bucks to screw a movie star" is simply too harsh to endure. naked twisted bodies hang around grimly, an macabre image of grotesque. in the end, frances still says "i'm still me! it's one thing you cannot take away from me!!" apparently this movie is presented in the perspective of frances' mind, the angst of a wailing individual, and everything seems like others' fault and social wreckage over her incorruptible soul. but i cannot help but wonder why other female stars in her time could still glitter and also remain individualistic without suffering so? (garbo, dietrich, crawford, davis, stanwyck..all are female avant-gardists with the sharp edge.) so why can't she be one of them? primarily, farmer's family background is the bourgeois who settle in cozy suburbia, well-sheltered without the hard-boiled survival instincts. contradictorily, she ain't ordinary enough to mold herself in such environment. meanwhile her distinguished beauty makes people indulge her brittleness too easily. (beautiful women always tend to be spoilt. think about your other female classmates in high school.) she cannot take pressure and also too willfully idealistic to reconcile. if she ain't beautiful, she wouldn't be a sudden success. if she ain't beautiful, she wouldn't induce sexual ravages, right? it might be inappropriate to deem "frances" as avenging outcry of individuality, and it may be more like a dirge of american dream for female individuality. you're taught in childhood, men are born equal, and everyone has his right for public speech. BUT you forget it merely means MEN.
    Veronique K Super Reviewer

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