Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

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Coal Miner’s Daughter is a film depicting the fascinating life story of country singer Loretta Lynn, right from her childhood days, her early marriage and her rise to fame.

I’m usually not a fan of biopics, but I’ll go ahead and say that Coal Miner’s Daughter is one of the best I’ve seen. I don’t love it, but it think it’s a great film. Although the movie covers a lot, it never feels rushed. Everything portion of Loretta Lynn’s life is sufficiently covered, and I must also commend the director for not steering the film into sentimental, oscar baiting territory. There’s always a kind of honesty to it, like it doesn’t feel self-important or excessively deep (*coughs* A Beautiful Mind), and that made the film very relaxing but entertaining to watch for me. Although the direction is nothing overly special, the storytelling is very engaging and well done, and I was intrigued all the way. Even the emotional scenes were very well-handled and natural, they were heartbreaking and sad in a subtle, realistic manner which made them even more effective.

The were several aspects of the movie that I really liked. One aspect was the extremely realistic depiction of Loretta and Doolittle’s marriage life. It was like watching a real couple interacting with one another because nothing felt forced or unnecessary. Although it’s a very standard depiction (quarrels, patching up, feeling overshadowed by wife etc.), the chemistry between the 2 actors was really exceptional. You could see that they were really comfortable with working with one another, and that they really supported each other instead of trying to steal the limelight from one another. The way they squabbled was really a “I’ve seen that before” moment for me, so I was really pleasantly surprised at this.

Another aspect I’ve really appreciated was the singing: Sissy Spacek and Beverly D’Angelo (who played Patsy Cline) did their own singing and it was really very good. I literally rewatched the “There He Goes” clip again and again because I was so blown away by Spacek there. I especially loved the emotions she injected into the songs; not only did she master the technicals, she even manage to add a kind of bittersweet feeling in them, which was just wonderful.

The acting was really the standout in this film. Tommy Lee Jones was excellent as the overshadowed husband. I was quite distracted by his bleached eyebrows at first. I initially didn’t think much of his performance because like Doolittle, I felt that it was a bit overshadowed by Spacek’s performance, which might have been the point. However, the moment where he realized that he couldn’t go on following Loretta everywhere, and that his work in helping her “get there” was done, it made me realize how much we as the audience have been taking him for granted. It was a very sad moment, especially when he told Loretta about how he also needed someone to talk to. It really highlighted how dependent these 2 were with one another, despite their quarrels and his forceful personality. Overall, It’s really strong work, especially considering how the character was not without his flaws. The way he controlled Loretta and hit her were really terrible, but you can’t hate him because you can really feel that his intentions were good.

Beverly D’Angelo was good, but I didn’t exactly think that she was robbed of an Oscar like some people say. It’s a very nice supporting performance, and her role was limited to that of the supportive friend but she really did the best she could. Her presence was very welcoming, and I always felt like Loretta when she was on screen: in good company. Of course, her singing was exceptional as well, but other than that, I felt that her role was a bit too limited and brief to warrant a nomination.

But as most people should know by now, the true powerhouse here is by Sissy Spacek. Sissy Spacek is one of my favorite actress; I wasn’t a fan of hers initially because I only watched 2 of her films, but even those 2 (Carrie and In the Bedroom) were more than sufficient to convince me of her enormous acting talent. Her performance in Carrie White is among my top 20 best performances of all time by the way. However, although Coal Miner’s Daughter is only the third film of hers that I’ve watched, it was really the one that sealed the deal for me and made me declare that she is now one of my favorites. I am now ready to worship her like how I do with Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Jessica Lange. Ok, maybe that sounded wrong, but you get my point. Further more, she seems like such a nice person in real life, it’s like you can just approach her and discuss her movies with her. I think I’m over-analyzing here but whatever.

Spacek is amazing as Loretta Lynn. In fact, she made the movie for me. Honestly, I doubt I would have even been half as interested if not for her outstanding work here. Although my favorite performance that year is by Ellen Burstyn in Resurrection, I really cannot deny Spacek’s brilliance here. One thing I loved was how natural she was. Playing real life people often results in excessive scenery chewing, but not here. I really like Spacek’s acting style in general, because of how honest she is in her roles, even in the weird and unusual ones like Carrie. She always finds the human side of her character and makes you feel everything they’re going through. She also has a very expressive face that conveys emotions excellently. People usually rave about her later scenes, but I especially loved the earlier parts, when Loretta was still a young girl. She doesn’t overplay the naivety of the character, and she really makes you believe that Loretta is in love (or thinks that she’s in love) with Doolittle despite knowing each other for only a while. I also loved how she used the character’s naivety to show her stubbornness and determination to get what she wants, or how she says whatever that’s in her head. It’s very funny without coming off as excessively sassy.

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The transition of Loretta from a naive girl, to a young mother, to a famous singer then an acclaimed star is very rushed, and I don’t mean that the movie is rushed, but that Loretta’s life in general is like a whirlwind. Towards the end, Spacek’s famous breakdown scene on the stage really highlights her exhaustion and you can totally feel how drained she was. Just the line “but my life’s running me” really sums it all up. In fact, Spacek was very masterful in building up the character’s exhaustion. You get hints of it here and there in a very subtle manner and it just works brilliantly because of how naturally it built up and led to the breakdown scene, which was btw fantastically played. So heartbreaking without being over the top. And then, you realized how right she was; although she was rightfully discovered for her talent, it wasn’t something she really had a say in but forced into by her husband (well, initially anyway). The way she became a wife and mother at the age of fourteen, how she was always traveling non stop, having to deal with the death of a friend, marriage problems in between, giving birth to twins…damn, even that sounds terribly tiring. And you could totally feel it off Spacek. It’s so true to life, the way the we constantly deal with all the work and shit without paying much attention to it until it becomes too much to handle.

I consider myself very lenient when it comes to such performances. Unlike some people, I don’t really expect the actor to totally become the person physically because it is understandably difficult as hell. However, I would still hold that the emotional aspects must be in top form, and that there must be an attempt at characterization, if not it just looks like pure mimicry. I’m not sure how accurate Spacek is in her portrayal, though from what I’ve read, it seems she nailed it. And she totally exceeded my expectations here. Although it’s not a loud role like Charlize Theron in Monster or Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, it’s equally powerful and is a splendid effort by this great actress.

So to conclude, Coal Miner’s Daughter is totally worth watching just for Spacek’s performance alone. Of course, the film has merits too, but if that’s not enough to convince you, well…there’s some great singing and music too anyway.

P.s. I feel like I betrayed Ellen Burstyn, cause I have her performance in Resurrection in my top 20. I feel like comparing these 2 works are so difficult because they’re uniquely brilliant in their own ways. The healing scenes in Resurrection are so brilliantly acted by Burstyn….but to be honest, I’d probably have given the Oscar to Spacek as well.

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