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USA 1980
Directed by
Michael Apted
124 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Coal Miner's Daughter

This biopic about Loretta Lynn tracks the rags-to-riches story of the dirt poor Appalachian (insert film title) who became a huge country music star in the 1960s and 70s.

Sissy Spacek plays a 13-year old Loretta Webb whose happy meeting with ex-Army hell-raiser Doolittle Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones) gives her four children later and a guitar, the latter, with her husband’s management, opening the door to a remarkably successful singing career, in part thanks to the tutelage of Patsy Cline (Beverly D'Angelo), at the time the most famous female country singer. Fame of course has its price with Doo having trouble accepting his wife’s success and Lynn having a nervous breakdown from overwork but their marriage, a topic which accounts for a considerable amount of the film, surviving.

The real life Lynn apparently chose British director Michael Apted so as to avoid a clichéd representation of her hillbilly beginnings and it was a decision that bore fruit as the film has a high quotient of authenticity. Spacek, who did her own singing in the film, as did D'Angelo, also brings an suitably unworldy presence to the role, handling the transition from 13 to 30 years of age with unimpeachable skill and she won an Best Actress Oscar for her trouble.  The success of the film gave Tommy Lee Jones, his hair dyed red for the occasion, his breakthrough appearance as a gruff ol' Southern boy, a persona which has, needless to say, become his stock-in-trade.  

As with most stories of this nature it’s the journey not the destination that counts and once Lynn has conquered her demons and made her comeback it’s thank you very much. One could well accuse the film of being too neatly packaged but this is probably in the nature of the beast (Lynn’s autobiography was its basis) at least in Apted’s hand it walks a sure-footed path.

FYI:  Jessica Lange played Patsy Cline in the 1985 biopic, Sweet Dreams




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