Jessica Lange delivers a terrific lead performance in "Blue Sky," and though last year was rather slight for female roles, it's hard to deny that she deserved the best actress Oscar she took home for this film.

Her character, Carly Marshall, is a quirky, troubled and ultimately unstable military wife, whose inability to cope with her husband's absences and the rigid conformity of their lives leaves the entire family damaged.

The family's stabling influence is husband-and-father Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), who dedicates himself to holding it together and to keeping Carly on an even keel, despite his being subject to the whim of the U.S. Army. Though he was virtually ignored in the wake of critical attention lavished on Lange, Jones deserves equal praise for his quiet, introspective performance, which balances Lange's more flamboyant, attention-getting role.

The film begins in Hawaii, circa 1962, and the Marshall family is about to be uprooted again. Hank is a military scientist, and though his work is valued, his wife's eccentric, unpredictable and sometimes scandalous behavior leads to his getting what is essentially a demotion. He is transferred to Alabama.

The kids (a very young Amy Locane and Chris O'Donnell) aren't crazy about this move, and neither is Carly (Lange) — especially when they arrive and see the dilapidated quarters they are supposed to call home.

Instead of settling in, however, Carly almost immediately reverts to her disruptive behavior, and eventually has an affair with the corrupt company commander (Powers Boothe). Meanwhile, Hank is sent to Nevada, where he reluctantly becomes involved in a government cover-up that has to do with nuclear testing.

This latter plot device is rather wheezy and tends to get in the way of the domestic story that is the film's thrust. But even without that lumpy subplot, "Blue Sky" is wildly uneven and is virtually held together most of the way by the performances of its stars.

The final film to be directed by the late Tony Richardson ("Tom Jones," "The Loved One"), "Blue Sky" was put on the shelf for several years after the production studio (Orion Pictures) went bankrupt. That accounts for the youthful appearance of Locane and O'Donnell, who have moved on to more adult roles in the intervening years.

"Blue Sky" is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, vulgarity, nudity and sex.