It look Lifetime, an acclaimed female screenwriter turned director and another woman writing the script to finally tell the stories of country music icons Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline from their point of view.
And it took Netflix to grab “Patsy & Loretta” and deliver it to a bigger audience, streaming now.
As grand as the Oscar-winning “Coal Miner’s Daughter” was, as underrated as its Patsy Cline companion picture “Sweet Dreams” remains, you had to figure that we weren’t seeing the hard knocks reality of their married lives, one of the things that bonded the established star with the rawboned newcomer in the Nashville of the early ’60s.
“Thelma & Louise” writer, TV’s “Nashville” creator and “Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” writer/director Callie Khouri and screenwriter Angelina Burnett (TV’s “Boss,” “Halt and Catch Fire”) correct that. And with the two Broadway stars they cast, women who do their own singing, they give us a brisk (OK, rushed), sentimental “behind the glamour” gloss of a bio-pic.
Earlier films about these two country gals — Patsy, from Winchester, Va. and Loretta from Butcher Holler, Kentucky — who met and became best friends in the man’s world of 1960s Nashville, played up their connection and touch on the troubled, even violent marriages that they endured while singing about housewives’ heartbreak. “Patsy & Loretta” takes the gloves off.
Patsy is played by Broadway’s dazzling Megan Hilty (“Wicked,” TV’s “Smash”), a big-voiced belter who caresses “Crazy,” delivers a polished “Walking After Midnight” and makes sure we see Patsy as flawed enough to make her share of bad choices.
She didn’t want to cover “Walking,” as it wasn’t country enough. But her shot on Arthur Godfrey’s network talent show saw her talked-out of her cowgirl costumes, into a stylish dress and into stardom, one of the first “crossover” queens of Nashville’s emerging “Countrypolitan” sound.
We meet her between marriages, laying her cards on the table of a Winchester honky tonk to the smooth talking/dirty-joke-telling Charlie Dick (Kyl Schmid, quite good).
“Two thangs I want in this world,” she warns him — “babies and hit records!”
The “dream house,” “Caddy in the driveway” (HIS dream) and “fox fur coat” would come later.
Jessie Mueller of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is lanky, naive and bullied Loretta, hearing Patsy and Kitty Wells on the radio in rural Washington state, hoping for something more than a life of babies and more babies and struggle. We see her humming and picking out her own songs, pushed and shoved by her beer-swilling husband toward stardom.
Burnett’s script zeroes in on that piece of Nashville lore, how the newly-crowned queen has a car crash, Loretta sings a song in tribute on Ernest Tubb’s radio show which Patsy hears, leading to a hospital room meeting and lifelong friendship.
The baggage this picture carries isn’t just the resonance and history we recall from the two singers’ stories and earlier bio-pics. We know that this “lifelong friendship” has a bittersweet brevity about it.
But while they’re getting to know one another, Patsy coaches Loretta on how to dress, on record deals, how to handle sleazy promoters and being her own woman.
“So, you just do whatever Doo (Doolittle Lynn) tells you?”
We see Doolittle (Joe Tippett, properly hulking) veto makeup, fly into jealous rages at any man who looks at his wife even as he’s making eyes at every honky tonk girl within reach. He throws his weight around, and sometimes his wife.
“If Doo don’t listen,” Patsy advises, “you find somethin’ heavy and make’em.“
The film’s depiction of the blue collar violence against women that the “Honeymooners” era culture normalized on TV can be chilling, even if we don’t see the beatings.
Both singers tend to pretty up the vocal stylings of the legendary singers they’re impersonating. For my money, Mueller comes closer to the unpolished earnestness of Lynn than Hilty’s brassy-but-too-polished Cline. But both are good enough to take one-woman shows of these icons on the road.
The film has a Lifetime malnourishment about it — limited in settings, lacking in razzle dazzle, not even getting the take-off weather right for that ill-fated plane right. The demands of knowing what you have to leave out when you’re telling a story in between commercial breaks stands out seeing “Patsy & Loretta” on Netflix. It’s “brisk” to the point of “hurried.”
It’s still a most worthwhile endeavor and a worthy film.
Rating: TV-14, violence, profanity, frank discussions of sexuality
Cast: Megan Hilty, Jessie Mueller, Janine Turner, Joe Tippett, Kyl Schmid and Billy Slaughter
Credits: Directed by Callie Khouri, scripted by Angelina Burnett. A Lifetime Original on Netflix
Running time: 1:27