1980 / Best Actress / Best Picture

Film #342: Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

From Glenn Close we turn our attention to another great actress in Sissy Spacek. Far from playing the Femme Fatale which has been Close’s go to guise, Spacek’s acting style was is much more natural and allows the audience to identify with her character. It was this down-to-Earth attitude that earned her six best Actress nominations one of which she turned into a win.

Spacek’s winning performance came as country singer Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. I thought her innocent wide-eyed look was perfect as she had to portray Lynn as a young woman of thirteen up to her glory days as a country star. In fact I thought that Spacek almost pulled off being a teenager in the opening scenes and was fantastic in portraying the transformation of Lynn over the years. The first part of the film sees Loretta being courted by eventual husband Mooney who soon breaks a promise he made to her father and moves her away from her native Kentucky. As she has a brilliant voice, Mooney encourages her to perform and she soon receives an offer to cut a demo for her first single. Realising that they have to capitalise on this initial breakthrough, Mooney and Loretta go on a tour of DJs and promoters in the south in order to get her voice heard. Loretta’s innocence makes her seem instantly likeable and she’s genuinely shocked when she discovers her song ‘Honky Tonk Girl’ has made into the charts. This in turn lands her a spot on the Grand Ole Opry and she soon attracts the attention of her idol Patsy Cline. As Loretta’s success grows, Mooney becomes jealous of his wife becoming the more dominant one in their marriage. With Loretta beginning to overwork herself she soon becomes stressed and unable to remember the words to her lyrics. Although she suffers a breakdown, the film ends on a high as we witness her comeback and the performance of the film’s titular track ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’.

Having watched a lot of biopics about musicians in the past I did approach Coal Miner’s Daughter with some level of trepidation. Luckily, I needn’t of worried as Michael Apted’s film was an incredibly well-paced piece that covered all of the key points of Lynn’s life without every overstaying its welcome. Tom Rickman’s adaptation of Lynn’s autobiography made me understand the motivations of both her and Mooney as her success in the music business changed her to an extent. What I liked about both of the Lynns is how they didn’t feel like stereotypes and instead felt like real people throughout the course of the film. Whilst Mooney does react jealousy to Loretta’s new stardom he never gets aggressive and is later supportive of her during her breakdown. Similarly you can understand Loretta’s need to make herself more glamorous as her star ascends despite the fact that she really doesn’t need as much make-up as she thinks she does. The musical numbers are all joyous, though I suppose you have to at least enjoy country music a little bit to appreciate them. Sissy Spacek more than deserved her Oscar as she portrayed all of the stages of Lynn’s persona from innocent teenager to glamorous superstar to an overworked singer heading for a nervous breakdown. Spacek excelled at portraying Lynn’s innocent charm and she really made the character come alive both through her acting and her singing. I’m shocked that Tommy Lee Jones didn’t receive at least a nomination for his role as the supportive yet jealous Mooney. I personally believe that his performance is as integral as Spacek’s and I really found his performance brought out the human side in the sometimes aggressive Mooney. Coal Miner’s Daughter was really a step above the normal biopic and showcased just how great Spacek can be when given the right part.


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