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SWEET DREAMS. Directed by Karel Reisz; written by Robert Getchell; produced by Bernard Schwartz for Tri- Star. Starring Jessica Lange, Ed Harris and Ann Wedgeworth. Rated PG-13 (language).


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Whatever you do, don't see Sweet Dreams if you don't like music playing in your head all day long. Because, believe me, it will. The movie is a biography, of sorts, of country crossover singer Patsy Cline. And the soundtrack is full of wonderful tunes sung by Patsy herself.

The movie's story, by contrast, is predictable and not too interesting. It drags a bit in the middle, and the details of Patsy's rise to fame are too sketchy.

But Lange, as Patsy, gives a virtuoso performance which may finally get her the Best Actress Oscar. The accuracy of the portrayal is completely beside the point. Lange transcends the mundane confines of this otherwise unremarkable biopic. Her Patsy is so full of life and energy, and so expertly drawn that we feel we've known her for years after just a few scenes.

Even the lip-synching of the songs, which could have been an awkward mess, is perfect. Her body language fits the songs beautifully. And her speaking voice is very much in character. For example, after Patsy sings a two-hour set, Lange's voice is raspy and cracking until she's had a beer, just as you'd expect after such a workout.

Harris' character, Patsy's husband Charlie, is less straightforward and definitely less appealing. But his acting is in the same class. Charlie is a boor who drinks too much and can't control his violent impulses. But Harris makes us believe that he really loves Patsy and he becomes a sympathetic figure in spite of his faults.

The husband/wife relationship isn't the only one that's finely drawn in Sweet Dreams . The scenes between Patsy and her mother (Wedgewood) are delightful. The two actresses play off each other in a completely natural and believably affectionate way.

None of the other supporting players are important enough to mention. But the trio of Lange, Harris and Wedgewood display enough expertise for a whole troupe.

The end of Sweet Dreams is worth a special comment. Usually I don't get to say anything about how movies end, for fear of spoiling surprises. But everyone—probably—who sees Sweet Dreams knows that Patsy died in a private plane crash in 1963.

So I can tell you that the movie does not end with, or even contain, the expected freeze frame of Lange's smiling face as she climbs aboard the plane. It does include a chilling reenactment of the fatal crash that will cure no one's fear of flying.

The ending is one of the few original moments in the story of Sweet Dreams. Otherwise, the soundtrack and the acting are the only reasons to see this movie. But these two items, and especially the acting, are outstanding enough for a hearty recommendation. Especially to country music fans. But even people like myself, who can take country or leave it alone, will enjoy Sweet Dreams.

October 30, 1985

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