Let me say it right here. Coal Miner’s Daughter is one of the best films of 1980. Period. I was literally taken by surprise by how much I enjoyed this movie especially from the kind of story it is. It’s a simple rags-to-rich story that does not stray far away from the formula, and yet I was moved by the characterization portrayed by director Michael Apted, screenwriter Thomas Rickman, and the two leads in Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones. Every character here is humanized and they have flaws just as much as they have virtues. Sure the story follows formula (the simple early life, rise to stardom, the downfall, and of course the big comeback), but I was firmly glued onto the characters because of how they were. That is what made this movie excel. I wouldn’t expect a movie about a country music star Loretta Lynn would move me as much as it did. But there you go, life is made of surprises.
When Loretta Webb (Sissy Spacek) was thirteen years old, she marries a man named Doolittle Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones). As someone growing up in the heart of the country, Loretta is destined for a life of homemaking. But Doolittle sees that is wife is bursting with musical talent that she has yet to see. So as a anniversary present, she is given a guitar. By the time she turns eighteen, she is the mother of four kids and a busy housewife. But when she finds time to perform at local country fairs and honkytonks, she starts the path to superstardom.
Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones deliver tremendous performances. Let’s begin with Spacek. She was chosen by Loretta Lynn herself because of a photograph of her despite not being familiar with any of her movie projects. I thought that was really fascinating. Over the course of the movie, Loretta ages from thirteen to her thirties…and Spacek made that age increase convincing. Maybe its her face or her talent, but I believed her a thirteen-year-old growing up in the mountain and as a mid-30’s superstar who ended up on a path of self-destruction as many people her caliber are wont to do. Whether she is singing at the Grand Ole Opry or popping pills on her tour bus, she gave a wonderful performance that earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress. Then there is Tommy Lee Jones in a role perfect for him. He is a very serious man and he gave a serious yet humanized portrayal of Doolittle. He may be serious and a hard man, but he is a loving man too and he wants to make his wife happy and successful. He seems to be fighting with Loretta a lot, but you know there is love when he comes to her rescue at a concert collapse. This is Spacek’s movie, but she allows Jones time to shine.
The story itself is incredibly simple and it follows the simple biography formula. But the characterizations and many scenes give power to the movie. I loved the part where Doolittle Lynn is trying to convince disc jockeys to take her records, but to no avail. I loved when Loretta made friends with a famous country singer Patsy Cline (played wonderfully by Beverly D’Angelo) and was taken under her wing. I loved the scenes where she was growing up in a poor family headed by her father Ted Webb (played by Levon Helm). Every scene in the movie added something to the movie. I also thought Spacek sang very well!
Coal Miner’s Daughter is a very good film, one of the best films of 1980. It strikes a familiar chord, but it’s also warm, moving, and sometimes funny. Loretta Lynn is one of country music’s darlings, and she still is going strong today. If you like biographies or country music or just great movies in general, please check this movie out. I enjoyed it so much, that I gained a greater appreciation of Loretta Lynn and her music. I guess it must be that country heart of mine.
My Grade: A-