And is the best thing about the movie. Aside from the supporting performances of Tommy Lee Jones (playing Lynn’s roller coaster of a husband, Doolittle) and Beverly D’Angelo (as Lynn’s tragic mentor Patsy Cline), Coal Miner’s Daughter is about as routine a biopic as a biopic can get. As most genre entries do, it spans years and entertains us endlessly – but in its efforts to condense does it struggle to capture the nuances and emotional details that might’ve made it more than an obvious memoir-to-screen lifting.
Such is unavoidable when you make a movie that covers a 30-year period and try to keep it around two hours. The product might be well-made and the performances might be evocative, but there’s an overarching feeling that you’re very much watching a cinematic product rather than a clear-eyed recreation of real life. You’d swear Coal Miner’s Daughter was just an excellently made television movie if not for all the attention from the Academy.
Because it tries to cover as much ground as it can in a little over 120 minutes, much about the film feels sped up. We go through the motions of a typical rags-to-riches story: star is born poor, discovers they have musical talent, pursues their art, gets discovered basically overnight, becomes a sensation, but then falls victim to the many pitfalls that come along with fame. We get an even better glimpse of Lynn’s life behind the scenes. How she married the 22-year-old Doolittle when she was just 15; gave birth to four children by the time she was 19; suffered through lots of marital tumult; had Patsy Cline as her confidant before the latter’s untimely demise in 1963; and eventually became so overcome with exhaustion that by the late ‘70s there was a brief period in which she actually considered putting her career on the back burner for a short while.
Because so many milestones must be touched upon, screenwriter Tom Rickman is forced to prioritize. The movie doesn’t go into Lynn’s lucrative professional relationship with Conway Twitty whatsoever. It ignores the public repercussions of the boundary-pushing releases of songs like “One’s on the Way” (1971), “The Pill” (1975), among others. And it only briefly covers her dirt-poor, but loving, upbringing in rural Kentucky. So sometimes, the movie’s a quasi-clip show. We consistently enjoy ourselves, but are aware that much about Lynn’s incredible life is either being skimmed through or completely redacted.
What saves Coal Miner’s Daughter from being totally run of the mill are its performances. Jones capably captures Doolittle’s volatility but never makes him out to be villainous – we’re able to see why Lynn stayed with him through all the alcoholism, the womanizing, and the brief eruptions of violence. D’Angelo (who, like Spacek, did all her own singing) recreates the strong resolve of Cline so well that, when she does suddenly depart from the movie, we still continue to feel her presence not unlike how Lynn has in the decades since the former’s passing. Spacek, who won an Oscar for her performance, of course had (and has) never been better: her bug eyes and her willowy frame manage to align themselves perfectly with the exaggerated real-life characteristics of Lynn, helped in no doubt by the way she so comprehensively embodies the woman she’s playing.
We like these depictions. And that’s something of a lifeline in a film that isn’t always as persuasive as they are. Although it’s pleasurable from its first frame to its last, we reason that Coal Miner’s Daughter could be a mini-masterpiece if it either delved deeper and indulged in a prolonged running time or outstretched a particular moment in Lynn’s life for the length of a feature. B
Tommy Lee Jones
2 Hrs., 4 Mins.
Coal Miner's Daughter January 19, 2018
s Sissy Spacek capable of giving an inauthentic performance? In Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), a Loretta Lynn biopic directed by Michael Apted, there’s plenty of room to caricaturize; playing a Kentucky-born country western singer with a proclivity for controversy, a penchant for wearing her hair big and her gowns bigger, and a voice more distinct than Dolly Parton’s presents
considerable risk for an imitative, unconvincing performance.
A lesser actress might lean toward cheap replication. But Spacek doesn’t. Every aspect of her performance is down to a T: she speaks and sings with Lynn's
exact affectation, and finds the essence of her larger than life, albeit oft-impetuous, subject. She is undaunted.