"Sexy and sweaty in her cheap wrapper, hair falling in her face, Jessica lange was the only thing to look at in last year’s glum remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, and she’s the only thing in Frances as well. This painful, almost masochistically honorable movie … never really engages our emotions the way it should, but that’s hardly Lange’s fault.
"The actress Frances Farmer (1914-70) was a beauty devoted to art who loathed Hollywood and was destroyed by it, a woman congenitally incapable of uttering those diplomatic evasions we all rely on every day. Lange gives her an unsettling harsh candor, a desperate perversity. She puts her back into the role—literally—propelling Frances in and out of the disasters of her life with frightening force. Moving toward her antagonist with a lewd smile on her face, she tilts her body one way, her head the other, and she’s doubly off kilter. She makes Frances borderline crazy but also noble, game, always in there fighting and always losing. There isn’t a trace of self-pity anywhere in this performance….”
"....Frances Farmer’s descent was fast, brutal, hideous. By the early forties, she had fallen into the clutches of the police, the courts, and psychiatrists. Her mother finally committed her to a state mental hospital, where she was subjected to electroshock, raped by soldiers from a nearby base, and finally, she claimed, lobotomized, before being released, in 1950. Dead at 56, in 1970, [she] has been taken up by a culture eager to celebrate female martyers…
"Was Frances Farmer the victim of a conformist country that hated outspoken women, or did she do herself in out of sheer bullheadedness and stupidity? Perhaps both. The writers of Frances … dramatize the peculiar currents of loathing and malice that flowed under the adoration accorded a beautiful young star. For a few years, the world lay at her feet, but Frances’s left-wing sympathies, her publicly expressed contempt for movies, and her abrasive candor left her vulnerable to envy. When she was down, everybody kicked her—in that sense, she was a victim. Yet the filmmakers don’t take the easy way out by making her merely a victim; they also show her spitting in the eyes of judges, psychiatrists, her mother—anyone who could possibly have helped her. Over and over, that lewd smile comes onto Jessica Lange’s face, and Frances says the most self-destructive and often the most hateful and obscene thing she can think of. She does seem a little crazy.
"Indeed, the filmmakers are so fixated on Frances’s self-annihilating courage that they forget to bring out any other sides to her character. Why, for instance, did Frances want to be an actress? To create a character, every actor must finally yield to fantasy, to fiction. Could the truth-telling Frances ever have done that comfortably? We have to take her abilities on faith, since the movie doesn’t show her acting at all—not even in Golden Boy, her triumph. France is monotonous and depressing, not because the heroine is a loser but because she never enjoys a moment of fulfillment. Miserable Jake La Motta in Raging Bull is at least shown boxing his wahy to the crown. The doomed Janis Joplin-type singer in The Rose at least has her exhausting, magnificent concerts. Frances has nothing—the filmmakers turn her into the queen of disaster.”
"…. [W]ith the exception of Lange, Clifford has trouble with the actors… Kim Stanley is almost unbearably intense ….”
"Once Frances goes into the bin … the movie becomes unwatchable—a frenzied snake-pit extravaganza, with screaming hags, brutal orderlies, medical callousness, ignorance, and hypocrisy. Frances’s ordeal was indeed nightmarish, but material like this is dramatically and morally impossible—we feel nothing about what we’re seeing except distate, and possibly dismay over an earlier era’s barbaric practices. By this time, we may feel so battered that we stop caring about the hapless Frances. When she emerges from the hospital, eerily becalmed after her lobotomy, we’re not sure what we’ve lost. Frances doesn’t allow us a full measure of grief. We come out of it baffled, frustrated, and angry in a hopeless way.”
New York, December 13, 1982