Cousin Bette

Cousin Bette

starring Jessica Lange

Jessica Lange has proved many times that she is among a handful of the best actresses alive. Her emotions are at the brink constantly trying to be controlled. Her age is now preventing leading actress roles coming her way. So now we see her less frequently, as she waits for something that’s worthy of her.

Cousin Bette is adapted from a novel by Honore de Balzac depicting pre-revolutionary Paris in the 1840’s. In the film, Jessica Lange plays the title character. Part of an aristocratic family, she was chosen as a child to do the chores. Her cousin Adeline (Geraldine Chaplin) is revered and spoiled. When her cousin dies, Bette expects to become the family matriarch at last. But the family is venal and selfish. The widower Hector (Hugh Laurie) offers Bette a housekeeping position. Humiliated, Bette goes to Paris. She is full of self-loathing and anger. She has no money but manages to become a costume designer for the courtesan and actress, Jenny Cadine (Elizabeth Shue).

Cousin Bette becomes ever more complicated as Bette tries to find some happiness with a penniless sculptor. When even that fails her, she becomes intent on revenge. The net grows wider as new slights and humiliations come her way.

As you might imagine, this becomes a bitter and unpleasant spectacle. Part of what makes Cousin Bette distasteful is that Bette’s emotions are scattered and can’t even be counted on to be relentlessly evil. Nor does she prove to be a sympathetic character. After the seamless story telling of Jane Austen, this comes off as something of a mess.

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