songs like Your Cheatiní Heart, Hey, Good Lookiní and Move It On Over
deeply embedded in the American consciousness, one might reckon the
fellow who wrote and sang those songs would have an interesting tale to
tell. Itís not like Hank Williams, considered the first country music
superstar, known as much for his brief, tumultuous life as well as for
his music, hasnít had the big screen treatment several times already.
The foremost production being 1964ís Your Cheatiní Heart, starring
George Hamilton, who brought Hollywood glamour - if not physical
resemblance - to his portrayal of Williams. In I Saw the Light, the
superbly similar Tom Hiddleston tries his hand at playing the star.
we meet Hank Williams in I Saw the Light, heís already on his way to
stardom. The singer/songwriter is the host of a popular radio show
where he banters jovially and plays the songs live in the studio that
will eventually make his name. Hankís new love is as hungry for success
as he is. Audrey knows that by helping to push Hankís star into the
cosmos, some of its light will shine on her and the world will discover
her own singing talents, which sadly, only she can hear. Even
marriage and motherhood wonít settle Audreyís desire for recognition,
and it, amongst other things like Hankís wandering eye and the constant
battle between his bride and his beloved mama for dominance over Hankís
career, causes friction between the couple. Hankís mellow, laid-back
demeanour and permanently amused expression belies the stress of being
pulled in so many directions on the homefront and falling short of his
ultimate professional goal of playing in the Grand Ole Opry, Nashvilleís
mecca of country music.
that itís only outside influences preying on Williamsí psyche; his
self-medication for lifeís disappointments finds him crawling so deep in
a bottle that he misses paying gigs, damaging his reputation on the
country circuit. That aforementioned wandering eye does him no credit
with the tremendously prickly Audrey, and later nearly manages to end
his relationship with the second Mrs. Williams after a fling becomes
pregnant. Never mind that with his hectic touring schedule, he barely
sees his little son by Mrs. Williams v.1. Hank Williamsí eventual
success, including achieving his dream of playing at the Opry, seems to
bring him no joy. Heís neither happy on the road, nor off it back at
home. The lean, lanky man with the omnipresent cigarette in his mouth (accompanied
by a constant cough) is burning the candle at both ends.
someone went into I Saw the Light with no idea who Hank Williams was or
why he deserved to have a high-profile movie made about him, that person
will leave the cinema in exactly the same condition, if not even more
perplexed. Never have I seen a starís legacy so diminished as poor Hank
Williams in his own film. I never believed the life of someone
considered a musical legend could be as boring as Williams' is portrayed
here. I Saw the Light is a muddied, muddled jumble that gives us no
answers or insight into either the man or his music, and makes one
wonder why the film was even made? It skips major moments in Williamsí
life (Like learning to play guitar at age 8, through the tutelage of
black blues musician, Rufus Payne. I mean, how could that be
interesting?) in favour of tired, clichť, countrified soap opera
Thereís nothing particularly shocking in his personal vices. These are
pitfalls that have been examined a million times before in far better
films about musicians. Here, thereís no real sense of loss or danger in
his struggle with alcohol or against his libido. Indeed, whether in his
personal life, or in his musical legacy (which one reckons is the
point of the film), the script doesnít give us one reason to think
Hank Williams was special, or what exactly separated him from other
country musicians of the era?
the Lightís obvious comparison with I Walk the Line, the seminal biopic
about fellow musician Johnny Cash, practically looms over every scene,
from the overload of moody half-lighting, and the patented 1950s
washed-out, yellowy patina over every shot, to the ultra-tight close ups
of Hiddleston at the mic, providing his own vocals to the soundtrack.
Thatís where the resemblance ends, because try as he might, director
Marc Abraham simply cannot generate sparks from a script this dry, dusty
and dull; which, by the way, he wrote.
the performances canít save it. I anticipated Tom Hiddlestonís turn as
Williams and while I wasnít necessarily disappointed, it wasnít such a
tour de force that it whisked away the dreariness of the backdrop. It
doesnít help that we get no answers as to why Williams was the way he
was? Why he may have been adored by his colleagues and friends, but was
a serial philanderer and addict? If the film meant to settle more on
personality than exploring Williamsí musical legacy, then it fails again
as thereís zero character development. Had there been more meat on that
bone, Iím sure Hiddleston mightíve have had a better challenge than
simply staying true to Williamsí physical presence and vocal delivery.
Iím sorry to say the latter of those didnít knock my socks off, nor did
hearing the British actorís southern accent occasionally waver across
Elizabeth Olsen does far too well grating on oneís nerves as the
domineering Audrey. Ear plugs should be handed out for her singing
scenes, which are truly meant to be quite terrible, and to that end, her
screechy, cat in a blender vocals hit top marks. I couldnít tell if it
was intentional that Audrey never gives any indication she has any
feeling for Hank as other than her ticket to stardom and wealth, but it
felt like yet another lazy writing choice to give her no depth. Of the
revolving door of Williamsí lady loves, curiously, itís Wrenn Schmidt as
the woman Hank rejects, refusing to marry her after informing him she is
pregnant, who has the most electricity in their scenes together.
Actually, had Abrahams chosen to center the whole film around the loving
relationship of Williams and his strong, supportive mother, played by
Cherry Jones, that would have been a million times more compelling than
this incredibly unremarkable, two-hour chicken-fried soap opera.
for all the time spent on Williamsí relationships and so little on his
actual achievements or impact, the inevitable end, when it comes,
carries no heft or emotion. This movie is a failure.
relentlessly dull, leaden script and direction utterly devoid of spark
or inspiration sap away any magic or interest in the story of Hank
Williams. I Saw the Light shouldíve stayed in the dark.
Lady Miz Diva
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