by Julian Spivey
I’m not much of a made-for-TV movie kind of guy, especially when it’s of the Lifetime Channel variety, but when I heard the network was making an original film about the fascinating friendship of two of my favorite country music legends: Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, I knew I had to give it a shot.
“Patsy & Loretta” premiered on Lifetime on Saturday, October 19 and featured the Broadway star power of Tony-nominated actress Megan Hilty as Cline and Tony-winning actress Jessie Mueller as Lynn. Mueller is no stranger to playing American singing legends, as her Tony win was for the original performance of Carole King in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” in 2014.
The cast, that primarily featured just four actors – the two leads and their husbands Charlie Dick and Doolittle Lynn – was rounded out by Kyle Schmid (Dick) and Joe Tippett (Doolittle Lynn).
The acting in “Patsy & Loretta” is better than I assume your typical Lifetime original movie would be with the producers going out and getting Broadway standouts to play the main roles. This led to Hilty and Mueller’s performances being the biggest highlight of the movie. Hilty played Cline’s brashness brilliantly, as did Mueller with Lynn’s awe-shucks, haven’t yet been to town demeanor.
My biggest issue with “Patsy & Loretta,” written by Angelina Burnett and directed by Callie Khouri (who’s no stranger to country music stories as the created the ABC drama series “Nashville” earlier this decade), was that it took such a fascinating story in one of music’s biggest and most interesting friendship and essentially turned it into a cliffsnotes version. I understand it would be incredibly hard to get this multi-year friendship completely in what amounts to a 90-minute film built around commercials on television, but I think elongating it to a full two hours or even longer would’ve helped a lot. It just felt like we went from friendship struck up to Cline’s tragic death in a plane crash at age 30 in the blink of an eye. This brisk pace really took me out of the movie. It wasn’t hard to keep up with by any means, it simply made it unable to really enjoy one scene without immediately being thrust into another one. Part of the problem with the story is it feels like something that should have the big Hollywood treatment, a la “Walk the Line” and suffers because it didn’t.
While “Patsy & Loretta” is a good snapshot of a friendship between two female performers I didn’t feel like I learned anything new about their friendship or careers – in fact, I believe I learned more in much shorter segments of Ken Burns’ recent PBS documentary “Country Music” on these two than in this entire feature length movie. I understand movies are more for entertainment than learning, but when it comes to historical figures, I’d like to have a bit of both.
One thing “Patsy & Loretta” didn’t shy away from was that both Cline and Lynn dealt with husbands who were frankly assholes and coat-riders of their famous spouses and neither performer really did anything about the terrible men in their lives, in fact Lynn would remain married to Doolittle until his death in 1996 despite his alcoholism, womanizing and violent behavior. It’s kind of disappointing that a woman who was so tough in her music would remain with a man like this, but the movie remains true to how her marriage happened in real life.
Ultimately, “Patsy & Loretta” was most likely an above average made-for-TV movie (but, I really don’t have much to compare it with) with good lead performances but didn’t give me quite what I was looking for out of this famous country music friendship.