Based on songstress Loretta Lynn’s frank and un-romantic biography, Michael Apted’s Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) is an unfettered, and at times unflattering, exaltation of the indomitable human spirit embodied by this First Lady of Country Music.
The drama deriving from Lynn’s own life experience is the stuff that dreams and good solid bio-pics are made of: Lynn (Sissy Spacek in the film), who at age 13 became a child bride set in the forgotten and impoverished backwoods and by age 20 had 4 children by sweetheart, Doolittle Mooney Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones); who, after receiving a guitar instead of a wedding band for her tenth anniversary taught herself by heart how to play; who etched her career from nothing more than sheer willpower and her husband’s undying belief in her talents; befriended by, then reigning country diva, Patsy Cline (Beverly D’Angelo) before taking to the roads of Tennessee – courting record producers and radio DJ’s with uncharacteristic nonchalance, all the way to the Grand Old Oprey – these were but mere addendums to Lynn’s formidable resilience as both a singer and a woman.
The tale opens with Loretta’s obvious affections for Mooney – a man much older than her. Lorretta’s father, Ted Webb (Levon Helm) is dead set against the match, though nothing will dissuade his daughter from marrying Mooney. But married life is hardly a bed of roses. Mooney hits his wife, flirts with other women and eventually sends Loretta packing back to her family. Yet, nothing will sever their overriding affection for one another. In fact, what is most remarkable about the union is its overriding sense of optimism that permeates the story even at the lowest points of emotional and financial despair.
Apted’s directorial vision for the project is clearly to immortalize his subject matter. In the lady herself, Apted is, in fact, working from extraordinary source material. Yet, in creating a deity of Lynn’s legacy, the message of her hardship and struggle is not lost or toned down in any way. The film is of that rare and superior stock in the echelons of biographical storytelling; as genuine and heartfelt as Lynn herself.
Imbued with a rare and inspired touch of brilliance, Sissy Spacek assimilates into one of the most haunting character portraits in modern screen history, made all the more astounding when one considers that she is not aping to Lynn’s own prerecording but actually performing the songs herself in Lynn’s vocal styling, chillingly on point. Tommy Lee Jones provides solid backup to what is essentially a one woman showcase. Beverly D’Angelo (also doing her own singing) is an amiable Patsy Cline. You can wait around and hope – but bio-pics don’t come any finer than this! Coal Miner’s Daughter is a heartfelt and distinguished masterpiece.
Universal Home Video’s 25th Anniversary DVD is a welcomed release. The stark, yet sympathetic story is matched by a powerful visual texture faithfully reproduced herein. Colors are muted as in the original theatrical release. Flesh tones are, at times, a tad on the pink side. Overall, the color palette has been nicely balanced. Contrast levels can appear just a tad lower than usual during some night scenes. So too, can film grain masquerading as digital grit be a bit heavy at times. Overall, however, the image quality will not disappoint.
The audio has been remixed to 5.1 Dolby Digital with a startling and, at times, unexpected resonance. Extras include a feature length audio commentary by Spacek and Apted that is thorough and interesting, as well as reflections from the cast and Lynn herself and, an oddity – President Bush Sr. AFI speech that makes only minor mention of the film. Highly recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)