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Ashley Judd, Pulp Queen

Wishing Ashley Judd a happy 50th birthday this week. Here's Chris Feil.

Ashley Judd deserves some credit that’s mostly only afforded to television actresses: she’s a pulp queen. It’s like a horror movie scream queen, except for midrange crime thrillers that your dad loves. But when the movie gods dealt her a standard genre exercise she could elevate it to something incredibly watchable, like a femme fatale without all the trappings of a leacherous male gaze.

Judd would eventually riff on the dingiest of pulp for her greatest performance in Bug, but mainstream audiences are more likely to remember her for her cinematic entanglements with the courtroom, espionage, and serial killers...

You could call the likes of High Crimes and Kiss the Girls stodgy and without the addictive gloss of Law and Order proceduralism, but its Judd’s authenticity that makes them come alive. She gets to be both vulnerable and take no prisoners, playing real believable women in one of our guiltiest of genre pleasures.

As one of the first women to speak out against Harvey Weinstein’s actions in solidarity with the Me Too movement, it’s worthwhile to remember that Judd has long been vocal against the bullshit of men both onscreen and off. In Kiss the Girls, she escapes and helps take down a terrifying idolator and murderer of women. In Eye of the Beholder, she’s the serial killer (honestly, when will your Hargitay?). Or take Double Jeopardy, where she schemes to find the husband that framed her for his faked murder and actually do the deed this time. And we root for her to kill the jerk.

Why does the procedural chapter of her career get so ignored despite producing some of Judd’s biggest hits? Does their paperback quality eclipse Judd’s easy magnetism and ability to lift them to supremely watchable fun? Are we just dealing with a genre that has been relegated to television reruns these days? If that’s the case, sign me up for an Ashley Judd cop show, because I am ready to see her pointing guns and throwing the proverbial book at dastardly men once again. A queen of the crime genre deserves her throne and we've thrown Emmys at less.

Sure Judd is no stranger to a wide swath of adaptations and genres: teenpocalypse (Divergent), melodrama (Simon Birch), and other general book club staples (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood). But it’s the scraps of your dad’s section of the bookshelf that gave Judd (and us) some delectable genre gold. Or at least some tough, take-no-crap gunmetal.

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Reader Comments (21)

Judd has always been intensely watchable. She’s great in thriller mode to boot. I remember liking double jealousy quite a lot.

I agree she’s at her best in Bug. Also very good in a small role in Heat.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHuh

Also worth rediscovering is her beautiful and subtle work in Ruby in Paradise.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

LOVE her in Kiss the Girls and Double Jeopardy. When I was younger, I’d like to cast Ashley as my mom in her own biopic LOL. They look nothing alike but I love the fight in this lady.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJija

She had and maybe if given more chances the likeability factor,I am sad her career derailed in 2003.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Eye of the Beholder had the best ad campaign featuring Judd in various sexy situations and disguises. And the movie itself is an incomprehensible bore with none of the promise of a spy thriller Romeo is Bleeding.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Is it still possible to find Smoke? I think that's where she hit me the hardest, and her performance in that relates to this vein.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

I recently discovered Bug and was in awe of her work. Such an aggressively uncomfortable, yet watchable performance.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

I remember this period of her career very well. I remember LOVING Double Jeopardy in particular, and I will still watch it to the end whenever it shows up on cable. Such a great entry into the "wronged woman gets revenge" genre.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

Such an underrated actress with so many memorable performances:

1. Ruby in Paradise
2. Come Early Morning
3. Bug
4. Normal Life
5. Smoke
6. Norma Jean & Marilyn
7. Kiss the Girls
8. De-Lovely
9. Helen
10. Double Jeopardy

Her top 3s are as good as any performances, hopefully she will get to do something special again.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKay

She is an underrated actress that deserves better. There was a movie she did in the mid-90s with Luke Perry called Normal Life that I feel is an underrated film as she just plays this extremely troubled woman married to a cop who later turns to crime to make her happy. She was great in that.

I also think her performance in Bug remains one of the most overlooked performances of the 2000s as it really should've done more in her exposure as an actress.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

She crushes Bug.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Bug! So much Bug. Also: Double Jeopardy, and Heat, and Norma Jean & Marilyn, and Ruby in Paradise, and Sisters (TV). Step up, Hollywood—put your #MeToo money where your #TimesUp mouth is. (Kthxbye.)

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Her best performance: Come Early Morning

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Come on Greta Gerwig, write this lady a meaty role stat!

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterME

She was awesome in Bug but she was amazing in Come Early Morning

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBhuray

I feel desperately sad for Ashley Judd, and everything she went through. But if recent appearances and the Oscars are anything to go by, I think she needs to heal before reentering the fray.

April 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

It's wonderful how although Ashley Judd is a rare combination of beauty, intelligence, courage, and talent, when she performs, we think, "Yes, I know exactly how you feel. You're just like me".

April 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Many of the things I love about Judd are the things I love about Gwyneth Paltrow: Refined but unglossy beauty that can look plain in the right conditions. A low, monotonous vocal register that never cloys in that Zellwegerian chirp. An unassuming confidence onscreen that's perhaps a product of second-generation stardom…similar to what we see in Elle Fanning today.

Kirsten Dunst has grown into the same qualities (she was deliciously chirpy in her youth) but has worked with better directors. All these women are masters at conveying mood, moreso than overt "character."

April 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

Ashley reminds me of Ida Lupino, who in the '40s had a lot of talent but was undervalued because of her association with genre potboilers.

April 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Double Jeopardy is my jam!!! I ain't mad at cha, Miss Ashley! This 90s bitch did that shit back in the day! Take that, Wynonna lol! Oscar-worthy in Bug, and for her role in #MeToo, much respect. No reason why she can't have some cop procedural show on TNT or USA and stumble on an Emmy (more likely a Golden Globe nod). She might have some difficulties given her age and plastic surgery, but I'm rooting for her regardless.

April 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDorian

Double Jeopardy and Kiss the Girls are highly rewatchable fun (much like the Law & Order: SVUs and The Closers of the world). Judd always able to portray tough smarts. I hope she gets a big come back to the big screen. Her tiny Twin Peaks role wasn't enough.

April 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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