Television | 'Patsy & Loretta' review: On Lifetime, a down-home musical biopic co-starring Chicago stage veteran and Tony winner Jessie Mueller
The new Lifetime TV movie "Patsy & Loretta" compresses 18 months of a tragically brief friendship between two country music legends into one pretty good biopic. But the performers lift it up to a higher level.
Megan Hilty (who plays and sings Patsy Cline) and Chicago stage alum Jessie Mueller (who plays and sings Loretta Lynn) tell an inspiring parallel story: that of a couple of Broadway pros with the chops to finesse
90 minutes of dramatic shorthand.
The movie, which premieres Saturday, covers the years 1957 through 1963, introducing Cline and Lynn separately, four years before their meeting in 1961. Hilty warms up the story with a hearty rendition of "Come On In," as Cline takes the stage at a Winchester, Virginia, honkytonk. She is about to embark on her second marriage, with Kyle Schmid playing Charlie Dick, equal parts supportive husband and simmering pot of resentment.
Meanwhile, out in Blaine, Washington, Lynn and husband Doolittle (Joe Tippett) scrape by with a house full of boisterous kids. Shy by nature and a wife since either 13 or 15 (accounts vary), Lynn contents herself with singing at the kitchen sink. Mueller, who won a Tony Award as Carole King in "Beautiful," has a way of doing a scene like this so that if feels overheard, not overstressed.
With the support of her mother (Janine Turner), Cline kills it at Arthur Godfrey's talent show, while Lynn makes her way forward as a singer-songwriter with surly input from her husband about how makeup will make her look like a "prostitute." "Patsy & Loretta" brings the star and the star-to-be together after Cline's near-fatal car accident in 1961. Though it sounds like biopic fraudulence, it actually happened: Laid
up in the hospital, Cline heard Lynn sing a Cline tribute on the radio and wanted to meet her.
The movie's story beats and rhythms at times feel rushed. There easily is enough material in this friendship, cut short by Cline's fatal airplane crash in 1963, for a four-hour miniseries or more.
Hilty more easily suggests the aura, swagger and vocal timbre of the real Cline than Mueller evokes the look, feel and sound of the coal miner's daughter from Butcher Holler, Kentucky. Mueller's edge is softer than the real Lynn's. But there is steel underneath the surface, always, and director Callie Khouri nudges Hilty and Mueller toward realism whenever possible.
"Patsy & Loretta" boasts one hit after another, giving prominence to Cline's crossover hits: "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces," "Walkin' After Midnight." The arduous touring schedules, the bruised feelings, the physical bruises: It's all there, plus a misjudged trio of ghostly Cline appearances in the final scenes.
We don't need stuff like that. Not when "Patsy & Loretta" makes time, and room, for some fine, extended hanging-out scenes allowing Hilty and Mueller to take charge both musically and dramatically.
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