Screen Savor: Sweet And Light

I Saw
Written by Gregg Shapiro

The late country music legend Hank Williams deserves much better than he gets in writer/director Marc Abraham’s dim and dull biopic I Saw The Light (Sony Pictures Classics). Thankfully, actor Tom Hiddleston, plays Williams (and does the singing) with all of the luminescence he can muster, outshining his director’s lazy and low-lit screenplay to turn in a radiant, almost Oscar-caliber performance.

A co-mingling of “vintage” interviews (shot in black and white), performance footage, and biography, for being a movie about someone as decisive as Williams, who “didn’t give a damn if you liked him,” I Saw The Light is decidedly wishy-washy. Williams was already a serious drinker by the time he got married to the questionably talented Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) by a justice of the peace in an Alabama service station in 1944. So you couldn’t say she drove him to drink, but she certainly didn’t do much to make his life easier.

Williams, a popular radio and roadhouse performer with lifelong back trouble (he was born with a mild case of spina bifida) and an irresistible stage presence, was also under the thumb of his mother Lillie (out actress Cherry Jones) who took an immediate dislike to Audrey. This was probably because she saw that while Audrey loved Hank, she also saw him as her ticket to fame as a singer/songwriter in her own right.

The Williams had the kind of rocky marriage (including more than one divorce threat) about which country songs are written. Nevertheless, Hank’s undeniable talent took him many places (often without Audrey) including the top of the Billboard chart and the stage of the Grand Ole Opy in Nashville. But his ongoing and debilitating health issues, heavy drinking and abuse of other substances, causing him to cancel concert dates and lose jobs, didn’t help his case or his career for that matter. Williams’ early death at 29, while undeniably tragic, was not all that surprising.

When compared to, say, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Johnny Cash in the biopic Walk The Line, Hiddleston stands “hat” and shoulders above Phoenix. Jones, who isn’t onscreen near enough, also does a relatively decent job of playing a pushy and controlling mother type. However, the rest of the cast seems aimless and Abraham’s lackluster direction and screenplay don’t help matters.

Hush Up Sweet Charlotte (Here!), a super-gay Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte drag parody/homage about the wacky Southern belle who became a “living mystery,” is an idea that probably looks better on paper than it does in reality. For years, theater companies such as Ryan Landry’s Gold Dust Orphans and David Cerda’s Hell In A Handbag, have been doing these kinds of spoof productions with far better and funnier results.

It’s not a total loss. Jeffery Robertson (a.k.a. Varla Jean Merman) as bosomy and conniving cousin Melanie brings a kind of exaggerated old Hollywood femininity to the character, intentionally crossing over into caricature. Also worth mentioning are stand-up-comedian-turned-actor Jason Stuart as journalist Mills and John Waters regular Mink Stole as rancid housekeeper Velma, both of whom do admirable jobs of keeping the camp coming. But the movie, written and directed by William Clift, is overly long and more than a little self-indulgent. The low-budget effects end up working against the movie as a whole and turn out to be more than a little distracting.

After making the rounds of the LGBT film festival circuit in 2015, this cramped camp production is now showing on Vimeo. If you missed it the first time around, you can see it now and decide for yourself if Hush Up Sweet Charlotte should stay quiet.