PATSY & LORETTA -- C-
When did Lifetime become the poor (wo)man's Hallmark Channel? Instead of providing insight into the struggles faced by two of the most prominent women in early country music, this sappy, cheap-looking biopic focused way too much on their rocky marriages and not nearly enough on their careers.
Despite being written by Angelina Burnett, a woman with good, tough credits (The Americans, Hannibal) and directed by Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise, for the Lord's sake), this lackluster Lifetime movie manages to tell us next to nothing about how best friends Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn became the iconic stars they were -- nothing about making music, nothing about professional jealousies or rivalries, nothing about why their friendship mattered in the larger scheme of things -- like how they helped one another deal with the blatant sexism in the music industry.
Instead we get a domestic drama with precious little conflict and a tragic ending we know is coming. Feels to me like Lifetime sanded all the rough edges off this movie, leaving us with this bland bio-pic that barely scratches the surface -- and skimps on the musical numbers to boot, with just a couple sprinkled in here and there. Considering there've been some great films made about this pair as separate talents (Sweet Dreams, Coal Miner's Daughter), the failure is doubly disappointing.
The movie works much better in the first half, as the worldly Patsy takes the young, naive Loretta Lynn under her wing both personally and professionally. They meet when Loretta dedicates a song on the radio to the already famous Patsy Cline, who's just been in a serious car accident, and the two become fast friends. They've got a lot in common, of course. They're both entrenched in abusive marriages to alcoholics, they've both got kids, and they're both amazing talents.
The most lively scene in the entire film is when Patsy schools Loretta with a long list of metaphors for oral sex, soon followed by Patsy outsmarting a promoter who refuses to pay Loretta up front for a performance. Soon enough, though, the movie seems to slip into the women's weeper genre, with lots of repetitive marital conflict with the respective spouses, and nothing about how difficult it must've been for either woman to earn respect in the industry.
There's very little attention paid to career milestones -- of which there were many for both women during the short period covered (1961-1963, when Cline died in a plane crash) -- and the only true, yet minor, conflict to appear between them are some comments Loretta makes to Patsy about neglecting her kids while she's on the road. It's established up front that Patsy is more at home on stage than at home with her kids, which provides a dramatic push-pull that's just about the only thing that works in this sketched-out story.
But Megan Hilty as Patsy is wonderful, hitting all the right notes, both emotionally and in her too-few musical numbers. She pretty much blows Broadway's Jessie Muller Loretta off the screen. And to top it all off, the movie ends with Patsy's ghost appearing to the devastated Loretta not once or twice at the end of the film -- but in three separate scenes.
It's only the imagined duet between the two powerhouse singers at the Grand Ole Opry that provides both the proper closure and a hint at what great entertainment this film could've/should've been.