(an “I love you and ALWAYS will!” film review by Timothy J. Verret)
Even though I’m a HUGE (and I’m talking HUGE!) Jessica Lange fan and even though I typically love those “rag-to-riches” films like SWEET DREAMS about country singer Patsy Cline, I was not prepared to write a film review because this film was a bit “TV-movieish” for such an intensely-feeling person as myself, BUT there was a line in this film that I can’t shake, as it has stayed with me for several days now since seeing SWEET DREAMS. It is a line that Patsy’s husband, Charlie, has her speak to him over and over (two times, actually). Patsy is actually a “patsy” often enough to her wild-and-crazy husband, Charlie, and when their marriage seems headed for divorce, Charlie wakes up Patsy in the middle of the night and takes her to the bar where they first met. They are dancing outside in the rain, and then Charlie asks Patsy to look him in the eyes and say with the utmost conviction, “You screw up a lot, Charlie, but I love you and I always will!” She struggles to say the line the first time but the second time makes it stick. I think the reason I can’t shake this line is because this is the EXACT line God speaks to me every day of my life, i.e., “You screw up a lot, Timothy, but I love you and I always will!” So, given this line, I’ll write a film review of SWEET DREAMS keeping this line in mind.
In SWEET DREAMS, Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline doesn’t “screw up” one bit; she is completely marvelous and completely stunning. I loved Lange larger-than-life (I can see that on a bumper sticker or a T-shirt) as Patsy Cline, giving this driven-to-succeed singer an emotional landscape (a term synonymous with the acting of Jessica Lange) that, even though the film is “TV-movieish” as mentioned, no man-made TV screen (nor movie screen, for that matter) can hardly contain. The landscape of Lange (I can see that on a bumper sticker or T-shirt, too) is impeccable and not matched by many, many actresses coming or going and leaves us with “I love you and always will, Ms. Lange” every time Lange takes to the screen (and Lange is pretty much in every scene in this film, so that’s a lot of “every times”). Ed Harris plays Charlie, and he’s also great, as is Ann Hedgeworth as Patsy’s mother. I’m reminded of another rags-to-riches film, COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER (1980), a much better film than SWEET DREAMS, with an equally as-impressive-as-Lange’s performance from Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn. So, what makes COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER “filmish” and SWEET DREAMS “TV-movieish?” It certainly isn’t the lead performances; let’s get that straight right off the bat. While Spacek won the Oscar for Best Actress for COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, Lange did not win the Oscar for SWEET DREAMS, and to not give Lange an Oscar for ANY performance she has given or will give is always a “we didn’t love you this year, Ms. Lange,” which is always a total letdown for me. I think the main difference in these two films comes down to their screenplays. COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER has a very rich screenplay with memorable lines and attention to time and space and place. SWEET DREAMS, outside of the line I mentioned above which was very personal for me, has a pretty “uneventful” screenplay and not much attention to time and space and place. It’s the difference in these screenplays where in SWEET DREAMS, Patsy gets hit by her husband and he calls her “slut” and “whore,” whereas in COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, Lynn also gets hit by her husband and she says, “You promised Daddy you wouldn’t hit me and look at you already.” Can you hear and, more importantly, feel the difference?
I also want to make the above clear that it’s not so much that Lange lip-syncs Patsy’s tunes in SWEET DREAMS while Spacek in COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER sings Lynn’s tunes with her own voice. That is very minor to me, because how could we possibly fault any actress if her singing voice lends or won’t lend credibility to her real-life singer’s songs? It’s a moot (or “mute,” whether to sing or not) point anyway, because watching Lange lip-sync Patsy’s tunes is like watching Patsy sing Patsy’s tunes, in part to a total marriage of song-to-mouth which Lange masters. And like Spacek, Lange in her performance goes beyond songs and mouth to give us body and heart and soul as she sings, something great singers (Barbra Streisand, comes to mind) know how “great” all of that truly is. Spacek did all of this with her own voice, hence one reason, maybe the only reason, she won the Oscar and Lange didn’t (of note, Spacek won the Oscar over Mary Tyler Moore’s brilliant performance in my favorite film of all time, ORDINARY PEOPLE of the same year; maybe Ms. Moore should have sung her part in ORDINARY PEOPLE, as it would have probably made her film family a whole lot happier!).😂
What SWEET DREAMS does have going for it is Jessica Lange, mostly, and Ed Harris and Ann Wedgeworth, in three terrific performances. It also has going for it Patsy Cline’s songs which, as the film details, started off as “honky-tonk” songs until Patsy met with a manager who told her it was her love songs, her “softness,” that was her meal ticket….and everyone ate it up! Songs like “Sweet Dreams” and “Crazy” and “I Fall To Pieces” are worth the money to buy the soundtrack alone for SWEET DREAMS. Patsy just melts our hearts and sings our sorrows in and out of love (albeit, “codependent” love) with her beautifully and deeply-nuanced voice and beautifully emotional and haunting attention to time and space and place. Unrequited love and “love on the rocks” is all about beautifully emotional and haunting attention to time and space and place, i.e., “time” as in late-night crying, “space” as in bed for weeks, and “place” as in a heart that “falls to pieces.” This is all where SWEET DREAMS excels in the sweet language of love, i.e., “I love you and I ALWAYS will!.” Lange gives Patsy Cline everything she’s got to bring us all this sweet language of love.
“You screw up a lot, Patsy, but I love you and I always will!” Same goes for me, same goes for you, and same goes for Jessica Lange who “I love you and ALWAYS will!”