How does a star become a star? Moreover, how does a young woman from seemingly nowhere and nothing rise to become one of country music’s most beloved and admired singer-songwriters? Loretta Lynn knows all too well, and in 1980, her remarkable story got put on the big screen. Based on her biography from ten years prior, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” documented Lynn’s various trials and tribulations as she navigated the music industry. Now, 40 years later, Lynn’s path to success is still just as captivating for viewers. Played by the brilliant Sissy Spacek, Lynn’s life story is depicted as a true story -- and it is.
Born in the tiny town of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky to coal miner Ted Webb (Levon Helm), Lynn’s adult life starts out hard and fast. She gets married while still a teenager and moves to Washington state with her husband Oliver "Mooney" Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones), where she occasionally sings on local radio stations or music venues when not busy raising a family.
Soon, folks start to take notice of the young, talented woman, and she winds up cutting a demo tape at age 25 from which her first single, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," is made. It becomes a smashing hit and earns her a spot performing at the Grand Ole Opry. Somewhere along the way she befriends an idol of hers: fellow singer Patsy Cline (Beverly D’Angelo). Lynn’s launch to stardom, complete with hit songs, sold-out tours, and adoring fans, is every country girl’s dream.
Watching the film is a “who’s who” of country music. Levon Helm, of the famed Band, makes his debut on-screen appearance looking rugged and dashing. Ernest Tubb, one of the pioneers of honky tonk country music, makes an appearance as, well, himself. The addition of the critically acclaimed Tommy Lee Jones makes for an authentic, non-nonsense team of actors.
But it’s Sissy Spacek who undoubtedly gives this film the color it deserves. Known for her stand out performance in “Carrie” (1976), Spacek’s talent and brilliant personality caught the attention of Lynn, who specifically requested her to take on the role in her biographical film. Spacek, initially hesitant and determined to refuse the offer, heard “Coal Miner’s Daughter” on the radio, and promptly changed her mind. Her performance wound up being the dazzling center of the film, effortlessly capturing the spirit of one country’s most recognizable singers.
Naturally, the soundtrack features a range of Lynn’s music, with a little help from Helm and others. And instead of overdubbing the vocals as one might assume, Spacek performed all her own vocals, lending to the film’s theme of authenticity.
The legacy of Loretta Lynn is an impressive one, and to condense it all into a few hours on a screen was certainly not a simple endeavor. But 40 years later, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” still allows us entry into the world of country’s brightest stars and serves as a token of appreciation for the paths she forged for others.
Written by Allison Rapp