‘And I’m crazy for loving you.’ The closing line of her signature song sums up the main focus of the 1985 biopic “Sweet Dreams” based on Patsy Cline’s life from 1956 through 1963. Hollywood loves to explore the life stories behind great talents, usually offering a particular interpretation of what makes the artist tick. Screenwriter Robert Getchell, producer Bernard Schwartz and director Karel Reisz portray Patsy’s relationship with her second husband, Charlie Dick, as being a core element of what fueled her passion as an artist.
The film begins when Patsy (played by Jessica Lange who received an Oscar nomination for her performance) is married to her first husband, Gerald Cline, pictured as a guy who’s more interested in his own hobbies than in Patsy or her musical talent and career. In an early scene, the rigging on his model ship, for example, is more exciting to him than how Patsy’s performance had gone at a particular club that night.
On the other hand, a man she met at the club couldn’t take his eyes off of her. That man turns out to be Charlie Dick (Ed Harris) who gives her all the attention she’s been starved for, including attention for her music, and who has a passionate personality to match her own. It isn’t long before Patsy leaves Gerald.
As Patsy and Charlie fall head over heels, Patsy shares her dream of becoming a singer, making enough money to have the house she’d always wanted, having kids and then being able to retire to raise them. They are sweet dreams. Charlie proposes and they get married. They’re both crazy in love and off to set the world on fire.
However, where there’s fire, there’s beauty and power, and the danger of getting burned. The film depicts their marriage as both passionate and rocky, with flair ups due to their strong wills, and Charlie’s drinking, philandering and temper. In the midst of the tumultuous episodes, they share the joys of two children together and Patsy’s career successes – Charlie serving as one of her biggest fans.
Another great support is her mother, Hilda Hensley (warmly played by Ann Wedgeworth). Some artists are driven by their mothers or fathers, but Patsy seems to have had her own drive and dreams which her mother tried to help steer. She was also Patsy’s place and person of safety when she and Charlie had their bouts.
The film also touches briefly on Patsy’s key professional relationships, but only highlights that of her manager, Randy Hughes (David Clennon). This is probably due to the fact that in the end he is the one flying the plane on which Patsy, Randy, and performers Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins were killed.
The film ends shortly after the crash and funeral with a devastated Charlie reflecting back on the beginnings of their relationship with all its hopes and dreams, leaving us to ponder the connections between dreams, reality and love. Like a good sad country song, it leaves you with the hurt and longing of love and life somehow incomplete, and the knowledge that you really didn’t appreciate what you had until it was gone.
As movies go, this one’s pretty good. Definitely a good rental, and even a good buy (very inexpensive online). Lange and Harris’s performances are wonderful. As a documentary on the life of Patsy Cline, it falls far short, leaving out so much of the other important aspects of her life, her career, and her lasting impact, as well as taking liberties with the details to make a better script.
The sound track is one of the best parts of the film. It features Patsy’s actual vocal recordings from the last three years of her life – the MCA years – faithfully lip-synched by Lange who does a good job of capturing Patsy’s overall performance style. Though having watched so many of the classic rewinds on My Kind Of Country this month, I think Patsy usually appeared more relaxed, belting out the songs without looking as though it took great effort at all.
The soundtrack album is still available in used CD versions online, but new versions are extremely pricey. Several of the selections have been remixed and produced by the original producer Owen Bradley.
Fresh-sounding as the remixes are, I personally enjoyed the numbers that had all the original vocals and tracks. Thankfully, those are also mostly her biggest classics: ‘She’s Got You’, ‘I Fall to Pieces’, ‘Crazy’, and the title track, ‘Sweet Dreams’, which was originally recorded just one month before the fateful crash.
My biggest regret is that both the film and the sound track album don’t include any of Patsy’s earlier vocals. Though she comes into her own as a ballad singer in those MCA years, there was an honesty, energy and rawness in the beginnings of her career that would have given the film a more real flavor.
There are a couple of numbers in the film that sound almost exactly like Patsy, but are said to be sung by Jamey Ryan (though she’s not listed in the credits) who was a contemporary of Patsy, and Charlie’s second wife for a few years: ‘Bill Bailey (Won’t You Please Come Home)’, ‘Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms’, and ‘Blue Christmas’ (which Patsy never did record).
As others have said, both the film and the soundtrack make attempts to improve on the original Patsy, in some ways contributing to the legend rather than sharing the real thing. But perhaps that’s a reflection of the film’s basic idea that love is a crazy mix of dreams and reality.