In America there is more beloved than a rags to riches story, the realization of the American dream, watching as a person born to abject poverty rise to fame and riches.
While most stories of this type revolve around a man achieving his goals one film, among the best in this genre, concerns a woman, country western super star, Loretta Lynn.
Born Loretta Webb (Sissy Spacek) in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky to a poor cola miner Ted (Levon Helm) Loretta had little to look forward to. She was one of seven children and the life ahead was certain to be a repeat of her mother’s life, marry a miner and have children.
As it turned out, life had other plans for this simple country girl. Just before her thirteenth birthday she met Doolittle Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones), known to most as Doo. He was a veteran, twenty one years old and determined not to waste his life in the dark pits of the coal mines.
He takes a job working for a moon shiner (William Sanderson) and begins to gather some money together. Doo is immediately enamored of the young Loretta, buying her horribly salty chocolate pie in a town auction; soon the two are, to use the vernacular, a-courtin’.
After the marriage Doo has to give in and work for the mines but soon discovers his new bride loves to sing. By the time Loretta was seventeen she was already the mother of four children. Doo decides to leave for Washington State to find better work on a ranch, promising to send for his pregnant wife when he could. Its not long until Doo sends for Loretta much to the dismay of her father, sending his daughter off as another man’s wife.
Loretta is always singing around the house to her brood of six children, Doo notices and for their anniversary buys her a beat up old Gibson guitar at a local pawnshop. While Loretta has a lot of self doubts her husband is convinced that she has the talent to become a star.
She quickly learns the guitar and starts writing songs, eventually getting gigs in local bars. Doo starts sending her tapes to every disc jockey all the way down to Nashville. Loretta is painfully shy but she loves her husband and he talks her into performing.
Her first song ‘Honky Tonk Girl’ catches the ear of some in the music business and a star is born. They wind up taking off in their car, living in it as they go through the country. Things start moving real fast for Loretta and Doo, before you know it she is on stage featured on the famous Grand Ole Opery.
Loretta finds herself fast friends and mentored by the reigning queen of Country Patsy Cline (Beverly D'Angelo). As Doo manages his wife she quickly grows in fame, her glittering gowns a far cry from the coal dust covered frocks she grew up wearing.
Underlying the rise to fame story here is a tale of two people that genuinely love each other. Loretta is a shy girl and even as fame began to change her she never let go of her love for Doo. His determination helped the couple together through the lean years.
It is fascinating to see the way Loretta grows into her role as a super star. Even as she started to become a bit of a diva there was always that little girl from Kentucky somewhere inside. Loretta would become dependent on pills;
Doo would start to pull away, having affairs, his temper growing beyond his control. Even if you are not particularly a fan of country music you will enjoy the emotional impact of Coal Miners Daughter. Sure the music is great but the performances are what earned Coal Miners Daughter a place in cinema history.
What a cast! Sissy Spacek has been nominated six times for the coveted Academy Award but Coal Miners Daughter was the performance that let her take Oscar home with her.
According to the commentary track the real Loretta Lynn was strongly involved in the casting of Coal Miners Daughter. She had never seen any of Spacek’s previous work but upon seeing her picture knew this was the right actress to play her life.
For many bio-pics it is a bit of a stretch for an actress to play the younger version of the character. Even though Spacek was 30 when Coal Miners Daughter was made she was actually believable as a thirteen year old girl. Her slight, flecked face gives her a much younger look and helps sell the part.
Spacek does deliver one of her best performances in her illustrious career. She has so much talent in her petite 5’2" frame it is a wonder to watch her dive into a character like Coal Miners Daughter. Both Spacek and Beverly D'Angelo did their own singing for Coal Miners Daughter, something a bit unusual in movies. Spacek not only garnered the Oscar that year but also was nominated for a Grammy for her rendition of the title song.
Tommy Lee Jones is an acting force of nature. There is not a single role that he can not make into an incredible performance. He looks a little odd with reddish blonde hair but his portrayal of Doo is on the money. He gives the audience a man determined to make a better life for himself and his family than the one he was born into. Jones is at his best when he plays to such strength but he is also able to offset it with the human faults Doo possessed.
Director Michael Apted has had a long and very successful career behind the camera. Coal Miners Daughter is just one of many great films to find its way on his resume. The pacing in the first two acts of Coal Miners Daughter are better than the last.
Apted builds up the audience’s emotional connection with Loretta and Doo allow us time to understand them a bit. The last act, after she had achieved her fame, comes across a little like an episode of Behind the Music. What Apted really does well here is the use of the all important music and his respect for the life of Loretta Lynn.
If Coal Miners Daughter seems to move events along too quickly that is actually how life went for Lynn. As explained towards the end of Coal Miners Daughter everything happened too fast for her.
Coal Miners Daughter is a film that leaves a nice impression in your mind and can quickly become a favorite.
Universal Studio has been re-releasing some of the best films they have in their vaults. Coal Miners Daughter is pretty much the same as the one in 2003 and if you don’t have that older release, be sure to get this one.
The video is anamorphic 1.85:1 and is excellent. The color balance is consistently good from the dark dusty scenes in Kentucky to the bright lights of fame. There are no defects or artifacts to be found.
The audio is a very full and rich Dolby 5.1. The music comes across better than you have ever heard it. The rear speakers are mostly there for ambience but they do give a realistic sound field.
The commentary track by Spacek and Apted is better than most, amusing and informative as the two remember what went into making Coal Miners Daughter. There is also a retrospective look by Jones and an interview with Lynn and Apted. President George Bush (the father) helps honor the American Film Institute and Coal Miners Daughter.
Coal Miners Daughter is a film the family can watch and enjoy together, one that you will be drawn to revisit many times in the future.
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