Coal Miner’s Daughterrecommended viewing

Let’s form a Sissy Spacek cult.
★★★★
☆
Released: 
1980
Director: 
Michael Apted
Starring: 
Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee Jones, Beverly D’Angelo
The Setup: 
A biography of Loretta Lynn.
Discussion: 

My friend and I decided to watch this for one of our numerous movie nights. I had seen it when it was out, but not since, and expected it to be decent, but not great. It turned out to be much more interesting and rich than I remembered, and of course Sissy Spacek’s performance is brilliant and justly deserving of her Oscar.

What surprised me is all the sexual content at the beginning. Loretta is 14 when we meet her, and they make Sissy look it. She marries Dooley, played by Tommy Lee Jones, and on the first night of their marriage he virtually rapes her, telling her afterward that she’d “better get used to it.” He then buys her a sex manual and urges her to study it, because basically, he’s gonna expect sex and she had better be ready to put out. I thought at this point that this would become an ongoing issue in their marriage [and the movie], but it doesn’t. Though the frankness of the issue and the fact that Loretta was so young provides a rich and kind of shocking backdrop for the rest of the film. What also amazes is the bleakness of her hillbilly background. This way the story of the movie is not just that she became a star [portrayed in most movies as the ultimate and most fulfilling possible goal in life], but just that she came from where she did and ended up where she did.

Soon Dooley is encouraging Loretta to sing before live audiences. The fact that Sissy Spacek did her own singing in this film adds immeasurably to the success of the film and her portrayal. Loretta Lynn, in the surprisingly interesting interview also on the disc, says that Sissy trained with her for about a year, whereas Sissy, in the commentary, says she trained with Loretta for about a week, spending most of the time with Loretta’s producer. In any case, it is a boon to the film that the film Loretta’s singing voice matches her speaking voice, and we don’t have a sudden shift as we do in movies like the similar Sweet Dreams.

Speaking of Sweet Dreams, eventually Beverly d’Angelo shows up in the role of Patsy Cline. Now, it’s quite clear that Beverly D’Agelo looks nothing like Patsy Cline, and I found her entire presence fatally off. Which is not to mention the tragedy of her singing. Her howl during the opening notes of “Sweet Dreams” will make you appreciate the real Patsy all the more.

It moves gradually, following Loretta’s career as she grows more and more popular and famous. We don’t really have to go through all the fame clichés like that she starts doing drugs and ends up dragging herself through rehab [thankfully], though there is some eventual exhaustion and separation from her husband that begins to take its toll. The movie handles these well, in a refreshingly non-hysterical way, culminating in an on-stage breakdown on Loretta’s part. And on-stage breakdowns are a sure-fire prescription for fun.

This movie is a good example of the differing aims of biographical movies, and makes a cgood contrast with the recent Ray. Whereas that movie sought to provide an overview of Ray Charles’ music and why his musical contribution is important, this one is more about Loretta herself than her music, her fascinating life story, and simply who she is.

Anyway, a well-made and written movie featuring a great performance. There was a point in this movie that made me think “I need to join some kind of Sissy Spacek cult.”

Should you watch it: 

Yes. This is just a really good movie. Also: a great candidate to remember on holidays when you need to watch something wholesome with your parents.