Some movies are designed to be acting driven films. Although the story is often enjoyable and entertaining, it is the acting that makes the movie memorable. Blue Sky (1994) is the perfect example of fine filmmaking that ends up being completely reliant on the actors and their performances.
In the early 1960’s, Major Hank Marshall (Tommy Lee Jones) is having trouble getting anyone to listen to him. He is a nuclear engineer in favor of underground nuclear testing, but his superiors are all looking to test above ground. In addition to his work related problems, his wife, Carly (Jessica Lange), is causing him, and everyone who sees her, immense distraction due to her obsession to look and act like the movie stars that she idolizes. Because of these problems their family is transferred from Hawaii to Alabama. Carly is highly disappointed with the transfer and hates their new housing. Upon arrival, Carly loses control and goes on a destructive tear through the home. Her daughters (Amy Locane, Anna Klemp) seem used to these kinds of tirades and although they are upset and embarrassed, they have grown accustomed to these childish fits and know to stay far away from their mother. Hank is forced to chase his wife through the base and into a store in order to talk her into calming down and returning to their new home. His understand of her and her emotional problems is sad and somehow touching at the same time.
Carly obvious suffers from a desire, and even a need, to be the center of attention and desired by all men, as well as her constant fear of growing older. Hank used to enjoy his wife’s pride in her sexual appearance, but as he is getting older he seems embarrassed by her ridiculous behavior. Things only escalate when his new superior, Vince Johnson (Powers Booth), disagrees with Hank’s nuclear testing thoughts and is set on seducing Carly at any cost. Carly’s volatile ways can only lead to self-destruction, unless she finds a way to pull herself out of the avalanche of trouble that she has made for herself.
Blue Sky is the kind of character driven movie that pops up every once in a while and surprises audiences not because of some original story or amazing technical aspect, but because the entire cast is in top form, bringing the best performances they possibly could to the screen. Apart from the acting, Blue Sky actually doesn’t hold anything too special. Tommy Lee Jones gives a wonderful performance that shows his versatility as an actor, but it is Jessica Lange who steals the show. In a career full of marvelous roles, she pulls out all the stops to make Carly be the beautiful bombshell and the crazy sex obsessed temptress at the same time. After her Academy Award winning performance for Supporting Actress in Tootsie (1982), Lange had been nominated for Best Actress for Frances (1982), Country (1984), Sweet Dreams (1985) and Music Box (1989). It wasn’t until Blue Sky that she finally received the Academy Award for which she seemed destined to win.
Tony Richardson, who won two Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director for his 1963 film Tom Jones, directed Blue Sky. He finished Blue Sky in 1991, just before his own death, but due to Orion Pictures bankruptcy the film wasn’t released until 1994. It must have been odd for Jessica Lange to win an Academy Award for a role that she had finished filming four years earlier.