Ashley Judd and I go way back. I've been following her career since her incandescent debut in Victor Nunez's Ruby In Paradise (1993). Judd has tried my patience since then. I have suffered through many mediocre and sometimes bad films over the years -- Eye of the Beholder, Kiss The Girls, Double Jeopardy, High Crimes -- holding on to the seemingly insane conviction that Judd will one day recreate the simple brilliance of that early, perfect performance.
No Ruby Lee Gissing
It has gotten more and more distressing to watch Judd's success in mainstream thrillers. Even worse, however, was Judd's turn to romantic comedies. I am no zealot; I could not follow Judd to the theaters for Someone Like You or The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The Ashley Judd I wanted on screen had disappeared. Judd lost weight, cut her hair, and became almost interchangeable with Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron. She made minor appearances in some art house films: a gay artist in Frida and the horribly miscast role of Cole Porter's wife in Delovely.
Judd's Return to Independent Film
Ashley Judd in Come Early MorningImage © Roadside Attractions
Joey Lauren Adam's independent film Come Early Morning
gives small, encouraging glimpses of the Ashley Judd performance I have patiently been waiting for. In fact, the character of Lucy, a troubled thirty-something looking for love, could easily be Ruby Lee Gissing, all grown up. The two women look the same, they talk the same--from the long natural hair, the lack of make-up and understated clothes, to Judd's marvelous Southern accent in all its glory. Judd's Lucy is tough-talking and independent, just like my beloved Ruby. They have the same face.
But that's where the similarity ends. Thirteen years later, Ruby would be leading a better life than Lucy. She would have solved the problems that Lucy continues to grapple with. Lucy is not a particularly sympathetic character. She drinks beer continuously and sleeps with random men that she meets in bars. Her self-sabotaging actions are not, of course, reason to dislike her; Adam's earnest screenplay unfortunately gives us little else to warm up to.
A Potent Reminder of Judd's Enormous Talent
The story of Come Early Morning
follows Lucy through her not-so-spectacular affair with an ordinary guy named Cal (Jeffery Donovan) and also provides various interactions with her family, a sick stray dog, and a supportive roommate (Laura Prepon.) By the film's end, Lucy does not get her man, but she does soften up. She also finds a home for the jukebox that she carted around in the back of her pick-up truck.
Judd does gives a real performance in Come Early Morning, but the film is simply not good enough for her talent, decidedly not the role that I have been waiting for. There are moments, though--the joy of watching Judd take a breath, smile uncertainly, deliver an offhand line of dialogue--that made me remember and yearn for more. Next, Judd is going to be seen in William Friedkin's horror thriller Bug. Sigh. After that, it's up up to Judd and her agent, and chance. Until then, Come Early Morning is a tease, a potent reminder of Judd's enormous talent and appeal. I'll keep on waiting.