Directed by Michael Apted
Screenplay by Tom Rickman
Based on the Autobiography by Loretta Lynn with George Vecsey
Country Music legend, Loretta Lynn has released 70 albums, 17 of which reached Number 1. She has also had 27 Number 1 singles. Coal Miner’s Daughter tells the story of her life, up to approximately 1976, when her autobiography was released.
The film begins in Kentucky after WWII. Like the title of the film states, Loretta Webb’s father works in the mines. She crosses paths with Oliver Lynn, known as Doolittle or just Doo, a solider just home from the war. He is a young, confident man who does whatever he sets his mind to as established in his first scene. To settle a bet brought on by his boasting, he drives a truck up a very steep hill. It’s a well-written moment that says a lot about the character indirectly.
They get married when Loretta is only 14. Being that she is at such a young age, it’s no surprise that she doesn’t know much in the ways of being a wife in the kitchen or the bedroom. Doo decides to move to out west to Washington and take Loretta with him. She reminds him he promised her father that he would never take her away. He tells her to decide if she’s her father’s daughter of his wife. They have four children by the time Loretta is 17.
Loretta has a great singing voice and Doo pushes her into singing in public. He saves up to record a demo of a song she wrote. They move back to Kentucky when her father dies and begin her record hustling from station to station, in an effort to get deejays to play her song. She eventually has a hit record and appears at the Grand Old Opry, the Carnegie Hall of country music.
She meets Patsy Cline, who is in the hospital after a car accident. They go out on tour and Patsy becomes her musical mentor. This wasn’t true, though. Lynn had actually received a lot of career help from the Wilburn Brothers that ranged from songwriting to her inclusion in their syndicated television program. She had a falling out with them at the time of the film’s production, so their role, which was detailed in the book, was omitted from the film, and Patsy was used in their stead.
Doo is marginalized since Loretta doesn’t need his help any longer. He leaves the tour and returns to the family. When Patsy dies in a plane crash, Loretta has to undergo the demands a star’s life brings for the first time on her own. She begins taking pills on the road to cope, and eventually has a nervous breakdown at a concert. She takes time off and returns to touring triumphantly.
While the story of the highs and lows that stardom offers is familiar, Coal Miner’s Daughter is enjoyable to watch because it is driven by its acting and Lynn’s wonderful songs. The entire ensemble, especially Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones in the lead roles, are marvelous to witness. Everyone brings a truth and humanity to these characters, which are usually portrayed as caricatures.
Spacek, who was handpicked by Lynn, won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1980. She realistically portrays the age range with her voice and mannerisms. The most amazing part of her performance is the fact that she does her own singing in the film. When the end credits state that Spacek and Beverly D’Angelo, who played Patsy, did all their own singing, I was duly impressed. Both women sounded so fantastic and so much like the singers they portrayed that I was startled by the revelation. They were so good that I’m surprised they didn’t make records because they certainly had the talent. It was a brilliant decision by Apted and the producers.
In regards to the DVD, it has completely restored audio with an enhanced 5.1 track. The commentary track by Spacek and Apted provides a lot of insight into the creation of the work, but Sissy refers to herself a lot as if she’s watching a different person. It’s a tad odd, but after 25 years she must not consider herself to be the same person who appears in the film. At times, they both were a little too much in awe. They all did quality work, but they were a little too impressed by it. The film is good, but it’s no masterpiece in the history of cinema. Apted separately interviews Tommy Lee Jones and Loretta Lynn about the film.
Quite possibly the oddest bonus feature that I’ve ever stumbled across is the 25th Anniversary salute to the American Film Institute from 1989 with President George H.W. Bush. In his speech, he praises films that have an anti-drug message and talks about honoring film producer rights. He briefly mentions Coal Miner’s Daughter alongside Rudy and Lean On Me. I’m not sure why it’s included other than the connection that Lynn campaigned for Bush in 1988.