The Great Lillian Hall with a great Jessica Lange

Jessica Lange takes a bow in The Great Lillian Hall

The Great Lillian Hall looks at a famous Broadway actress as she faces the fading health that will mean the end of her long career. Jessica Lange plays Lillian Hall and gives her character heart and pain as she moves into the last part of her life and fame. There are some spoilers ahead.

The Great Lillian Hall begins with the actress in rehearsal for The Cherry Orchard. The director, David (Jesse Williams), and the producer, Jane (Cindy Hogan), notice she’s slipping. She’s forgetting lines, forgetting the blocking, forgetting which act of the play she’s rehearsing.

Jessica Lange and Jesse Williams in The Great Lillian Hall

Jane has an understudy ready, but David insists he needs Lillian Hall to bring in theater goers when Chekhov is playing. Lillian reassures David. She blames her confusion on allergy meds and tells him she will be fine. He leaves her in the lead.

Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange in The Great Lillian Hall

Lillian’s home life is run by Edith (Kathy Bates). Watching these two great actors work together to create the hellscape of dementia that’s coming is impressive.

Lillian frequently chats with Ty (Pierce Brosnan), who lives in the next apartment. Their balconies are open to each other. He can see what’s happening to her, too.

Jessica Lange and Lily Rabe in The Great Lillian Hall

Lillian has a daughter, Margaret (Lily Rabe), who lives in New Jersey with her husband and son. They seldom see each other. As in Margaret’s childhood, the play is everything and Margaret is way down on the list of priorities.

When Lillian gets the diagnosis of dementia she recognizes the symptoms as the doctor talks with her. Particularly the realistic hallucinations of her dead husband (Michael Rose) that pull her to strange places.

It’s a temporary fix, but Edith figures out a way for Lillian to get through rehearsals and opening night. Opening night has an odd strangeness to it, but the other actors do their best to stay with Lillian as she gets through it. Her performance is brilliant, as always, and the unsuspecting public gives her a standing ovation. Her final bow is a poignant moment as it may mark the end of her illustrious career.

There’s a lovely tenderness and kindness from the actors in this film. It’s a realistic look at what dementia can do, but it’s also a portrait of how love can contribute to the handling of it. Not everyone has a famous Broadway actress as the family matriarch, but everyone with a family member suffering from dementia will understand this film on a visceral level.

A top level, powerful performance from Jessica Lange will surely earn her some recognition. Everyone in the cast did a terrific job, actually. This isn’t a light hearted movie, but it has an important human message and story. You can see it on Max.

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