Oscar 2005: Walk the Line–Reese Witherspoon on Showbiz and Suffering

Does Reese Witherspoon, as singer-songwriter and Johnny Cash’s second wife, suffer enough in the musical biography “Walk the Line” to merit an Oscar Award?

This year’s acting Oscar nods may see a repeat of the 1980 Oscars, in which Sissy Spacek won Best Actress for “A Coal Miner’s Daughter,” in which she played country singer Loretta Lynn.

Witherspoon is at a similar age to Spacek’s at the time, and both actresses do their own singing, which is always a plus. Remember how the Academy penalized Audrey Hepburn and deprived her of Oscar nomination in “My Fair Lady,” in which Marnie Nixon dubbed her voice.

Wutherspoon has already won a number of important critics accolades, including the New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington D.C. Film Critics Associations, and she is nominated for a Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics Award (both to be announced in Mid-January).

If Witherspoon win the Oscar, she’ll be in good company as the most prevalent Oscar female parts have combined showbiz with suffering.

The prototype for this role is still the movie “A Star Is Born,” in its various reincarnations, the story of a young actress who ascends to stardom while her husband’s career goes on the skids. Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland were both Oscarnominated for the same role in the 1937 and 1954 versions, respectively. Based on simplistic formulas, showbiz pictures encourage the notion that achieving fame costs a high price, and that stardom doesn’t last long due to its damaging effects on the personal lives of self and others.

Consider these Oscar-nominated roles:

Greta Garbo, as opera singer conflicted between the love of a wealthy “patron” and a young clergyman, in Romance;

Eleanor Parker, as the crippled singer Marjorie Lawrence in Interrupted Melody;

Susan Hayward, as the alcoholic singer Lillian Roth in I’ll Cry Tomorrow;

Katharine Hepburn, as Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a morphine-addicted woman who’s unhappily-married to a pompous and fading actor (Ralph Richardson)

Vanessa Redgrave as Isadora Duncan, a dancer who dies prematurely in an accident, in “Isadora”

Diana Ross, as heroin-addicted, racially oppressed singer Billie Holliday in “Lady Sings the Blues”;

Bette Midler, as the drug-addicted rock star (loosely based on Janis Joplin’s life) in The Rose;

Jessica Lange, as the doomed anti-establishment actress Frances Framer in “Frances,” who, tormented by an overbearing mother, turns to the bottle and is put in an asylum;

Jessica Lange as country singer Patsy Kline who finds her untimely death in a plane crash in “Sweet Dreams”;

Mary McDonnell, as the selfish paralyzed soap opera star in Passion Fish”;

Debra Winger, as Joy Gresham, an American divorcee who falls for Oxford literary critic, C.S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins), only to die of cancer, in “Shadowlands”;

Angela Bassett, as the abused singer Tina Turner in the biopicture “What’s Love Got to Do With It”;

Meryl Streep, as a pill-popping actress caught in a problematic relationship with her mother-celeb, in “Postcards from the Edge”;

Judi Dench, as Altzheimer-afflicted writer-philosopher Iris Murdoch, in “Iris”;

Nicole Kidman as the Camille-like courtesan-actress, dying of tuberculosis, in the musical “Moulin Rouge.”

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If you want to know more about this issue, please read my book, All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards.