DECKED OUT in a brown beehive, several inches of Maybelline Moisture Whip mascara and a baby-blue satin Rhinestone cowgirl outfit, country and western hopeful Patsy Cline (Jessica Lange) gazes out into the audience of the proverbial roadhouse-on-the-way-to-no-where and beings to croon, "I'm crazy, crazy for being soooo lonelyyyy." A star is born. The face of country music and the world has been changed forever. Or so Sweet Dreams, Director Karol Reisz's new film chronicling the ups and downs of Patsy Cline, country music's pre-Loretta Lynn sweetheart, would have you believe. In point of fact, Cline's life was pitifully uninteresting, and if it weren't for the stellar performances of Lange and co-star Ed Harris, the same could be said for the movie.
Admittedly, Sweet Dreams suffers from the inevitability of its own storyline--before the movie even begins, we all know that the young wife/mother/country singer will die in a plane crash at the premature age of 32. Because the precise circumstances of Cline's life and death are so clearly explicated in the film's rushes and television commercials, we fight against the irresistible temptation of ticking off the years of her life as they appear on the screen in order to speed things up a bit. When, at about three-quarters of the way through the picture, Cline is the victim of a near-fatal auto accident, we entertain the all-too-fleeting hope that screenwriter Robert Giechel had the sense to rewrite her life in order to end it sooner.
Notwithstanding the obvious difficulties encountered in Reisz's attempt to capture Cline's life within the grandiose format of a Gandhi-esque epic, the film does manage to provide its desperate viewers with two fabulous performances as well as a slickly assembled score that will have hard-core Stones fans running to the Coop to snap up the sure-to-be-re-released copies of Cline's albums.
IN HER ATTEMPT to portray Cline in the most realistic manner possible, Lange has totally changed not only her physical appearance (lucky for her that she's a natural blonde), but her voice as well, dropping it as much as two full octaves in order that her soprano speaking voice match up with Cline's whiskey-throated contralto. Unfortunately for Lange, realism in this context is more often than not equivalent to boredom--six scenes of Cline trying to pull together the threads of her life after either an out-and-out dogfight with second husband Charlie Dick (Ed Harris) or the continual drudgery of house-cleaning and motherhood are simply five too many.
Lange does an admirable job of making us like Cline, giving her a spunky down-to-earthness that evaded even Sissy Spacek in Sweet Dreams' highly superior sister film, Coal Miner's Daughter, but only at the expense of making her seem entirely too ordinary.
Unlike Lynn, who rose to stardom literally from the backwoods of the south, Cline's path to the Grand Ole Opry seems to have been relatively worry-free, with random big-time record producers stopping her on the street and informing her that she is nothing less than the biggest talent to hit Nashville in generations.
Trapped by the constraints of a poorly fleshed out character, Harris, as Cline's husband Charlie Dick, could possibly fare even worse than does Lange in the execution of his role. Beer-guzzling, knee-slapping chauvinist Charlie would not appear to have much cult potential among today's hypersensitive post-Rambo moviegoing audiences. He certainly doesn't score too highly with wife Cline, who gave up a safe of boring first husband to plunge into the depths of eroticism with Charlie only to discover that she's not the only one keeping his bed warm at night.
Harris, however, is miraculously able to redeem his character on the strength of only one scene, arguably the best movie history since Harrison Ford taught Kelly McGillis how to bop in Witness. Feeling contrite about his continual neglect of his wife and baby, boot-camp confined Dick jumps on a hot motorcycle and cruises the hundred or so miles back home just so he can drag his somnambulent wife out into the pouring rain for a slow dance in front of the nightclub where they met. As he cuddles against Cline's rain-soaked nightgown, it's impossible not to feel a rush of warmth for this self confessed jerk destined to walk life totally unaware of the pain he causes those he loves best.
The best and perhaps only reason to blow two hours and five dollars on Sweet Dreams is to sit back and enjoy the incredible chemistry between Lange and Harris, whose love sequences make Richard Gere and Debra Winger look like high-school students on their first date.
Obviously curtailed by Reisz's annoying obsession with portraying "the total woman," the two are permitted to develop their intriguing love-hate relationship only at discrete intervals throughout the course of the movie. If things had been otherwise, we might have been treated to a country-style Breathless if not a Coal Miner's Granddaughter.