When people ask me what my favorite Cher performance is I always say Sissy in Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. Her performances as Loretta in Moonstruck and Rusty in Mask are pretty great too, but just not as great.
The issue in saying this, however, is that Jimmy Dean is a much more difficult movie for people to watch than all the other Cher movies. Unless you're a fan of Robert Altman and even then, this is not a favorite film among even Altman fans.
For one thing, there's the convention of time-travel through the dime-store mirror that seems confusing for most people. Then there's the whole storyline of transgenering, which in 1982 was challenging for viewers and is still controversial for some people now.
So I was thrilled to find this dissection of Cher's performance by film critic Claudio Alves who has been watching the Criterion Channels Films of Endearment series. He calls this move "an underrated Robert Altman effort" and rightly credits Altman's role in handing Cher a serious film career. "If not for this flick, her ascendance to movie stardom might have never happened."
Alves concedes that of the three women, Cher's role is "the least showy part, though no less complex" compared to Karen Black's performance of a trans woman ("portrayed with a sensitivity that feels ahead of its time for 1982"), and Sandy Dennis' performance of "warped fandom" and a life of lies. Cher's role still contains plenty of "juicy monologues and shattered multidimensionality."
He breaks apart Cher's casual entrance and connects it to her on-stage persona. He talks about her "vocal cadence and the rhythm of gestures" that reveal "a deeper weariness" and he contrasts this to her portrayal of her younger, more jubilant self.
He takes apart her "humor and energy" in the role during periods of reaction to the dramas of other characters ("comedic frustration," "dipsomatic deadpan," "bored and slightly critical in that way one is when being presented with an oft-repeated lie") and her performance of
"exaggerating emotion in order to force herself into genuine feeling. It's a risky gambit on Cher's part, for the approach could read as over-deliberate, mayhap over-technical when compared to Dennis' externalized implosions and Black's sense of innate fragmentation. Thankfully, Cher thrives in making bold choices look instinctual, erasing any signs of forcefulness until everything she does on-screen looks effortless. Such powers aren't beneficial for winning awards, though, since so much value is put on the performer's self-conscious extenuations. Nevertheless, they're vital to the songstress' success as a dramatic actress. They also define her presence as that of an old-school movie star. She can walk into a movie, captivate the camera, and magnetize the audience's gaze without breaking a sweat."
Alves even has some rare praise for Altman's work here: "This film...works as a showcase for Altman's ability to collaborate with actors and shoot limited spaces, finding infinite strategies to capture and contrast the store and its women...using these famous performers in ways no other film ever tried, before or since.
Not only does Alves give Cher's performance due diligence, his screenshots are perfectly illustrative of key moments.