- Movie Rating -

Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

| March 7, 1980

I remember during an interview one time, Jay Leno remarked that when it comes to celebrity, the public doesn’t mind if you have a lot of money as long as they know you’re working for it.  I would go further and assert that Americans don’t mind if you’ve risen to the top of the showbusiness ladder as long as they know you’ve suffered for it.  It is true, maybe its inherent in our Puritanical heritage.  There’s something Biblical about that.

Certainly Loretta Lynn seems to have suffered for it.  Coal Miner’s Daughter is purely a rags-to-riches story, all about how she rose from humble origins in Butcher Hollow Kentucky, married a hard-driving man named Dolittle, had four kids by the time she was 20, became so successful that she earned the nickname The First Lady of Country Music, and then fell into a the traps of success; anxiety, depression, heart-ache, drug abuse, marital problems.

What is kind of amazing is that there seems to have been on predestination here.  Loretta grew up in the dirt-poor coal fields of Kentucky where she learned to play the guitar on an old beat-up pawnshop instrument.  She met and married a WWII veteran Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn who wooed her, married her, took her to the city, pushed her on the stage of a flea-bitten honky tonk and then convinced her that she could sing.  One gig led to a bigger gig, she got more comfortable on stage and eventually she ended up at the Grand Old Opry.  Then things tipped over.  Doo became jealous of her success and their marriage suffered.  The schedule became more and more demanding and things got self-destructive.

This would be a very trite and very dull story if it weren’t infused with so much humanity.  Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones fill these roles with so much humanity, so much relatability that it helps ease over the predictable elements of their journey.  Spacek in particular is especially good here because we never sense that we’re watching an actress.  I am fully convinced that this is the real thing and this is how things turned out in Loretta Lynn’s journey.  And listening to her singing voice (she did all of her own singing) I understand how she got so successful so quickly.  She has so many notes to play in this role, allowing us to see Lynn at different ages, from a 14-year-old kid in Kentucky to a woman at the top of her profession in her mid-30s – it’s an incredible transformation.

Just as interesting, though not as lauded, is Tommy Lee Jones as Dolittle.  Jones weaves through all of the cliches about the showbusiness husband but spares us the scenes of overwrought melodrama.  He is by-and-large a decent man but it’s also gruff, hard-nosed and occasionally rough with his wife.  When she becomes a success, he wears his jealousy on his sleeve.  That’s a bold move.  This is a movie that embraces all of the cliches about success but avoids making them tiresome.  If they weren’t so grounded, we wouldn’t believe any of it.

By the end, I felt that I had been on a journey.  I had been right there with Loretta Lynn every step of the way.  When we see her mansion at the end of the film, we know the price that has been paid for it.  We understand the pitfalls of success and we know what she’s been through.  Does it seem Biblical?  Maybe that’s why we worship celebrities.  Something to think about.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized