'Bug': That way madness lies
As Agnes, the lonely, emotionally wrecked waitress in the bleak new psychodrama "Bug," Ashley Judd wears no makeup and spends much of the film picking at imaginary insect bites. It's hard not to look silly swatting invisible aphids, and if Judd were just a glamour puss slumming it, we might be tempted to giggle.
But we aren't, because underneath that beautiful exterior, Judd is a very credible actress. She's already proved this many times over, from her remarkable supporting performance in "Smoke," to "Ruby in Paradise," and right on through the treacle-soaked "Where the Heart Is." This time, however, she's picked a role so unrelentingly miserable, "InStyle" magazine may never again want to put her on the cover wearing pink ruffles.
The movie is agonizing. Based on Tracy Letts' off-Broadway play of the same name, it is a tale of paranoia and delusion. Agnes lives alone in a rundown residential motel, where the walls and furniture are all the color of nicotine stains. Her ex-husband, Jerry (Harry Connick Jr.) has just been paroled, and she fears his return. One night, in the midst of this dread, her best friend, R.C. (Lynn Collins), comes by to party with a quiet, polite young man named Peter (Michael Shannon, reprising his stage role).
Peter is a Gulf War vet, drifting around the country. He tells her he has no interest in sex. He also tells her she's beautiful. Agnes lets him stay. Not long after, he confesses that he went AWOL from a military hospital and there are bugs under his skin. Soon they are buying Raid and fly paper by the case, and the audience finds itself in the unusual position of sincerely hoping that the ex-husband will drop by, even though he's a demonstrably abusive brute.