The reason this film works (arguably the greatest bio-pic ever produced) is that it is ABOUT Loretta Lynn's life, not about country music. From the opening shots of a young Loretta riding a mule to the mines with her brother, you know this will be a film about extraordinary characters. It is over an hour before we hear one song from Loretta Lynn; director Michael Apted and writer Thom Rickman spend time to develop Loretta, Doolittle and her family. When her father dies, the audience cries with Loretta because we know her family, her father, we understand where this girl came from and why it is such a unique transition from backwoods girl to international star.
It's been said that Ms. Lynn was named after movie star Loretta Young. When approached by executives to make a movie about her life (based on her best-selling autobiography), she was savvy enough to realize that a film would end up on television anyway, and opted to have film made. I can imagine (most likely to the chagrin of studio execs) that Apted fought to develop a script that showcased the characters over the music. The result is a film that EVERYONE enjoys. When the film was released in 1980, I remember people going who were definitely not country music fans, and I remember their raves after the movie.
America is about the Horatio Alger storyline: everyone can achieve greatness. This film highlights that dream. While it does fall into some cliche trappings once Loretta Lynn is a huge success (the on-the-road montage, the drugs, the nervous breakdown), there are such cliches because the pressure performers feel is one in the same. Overall, it ages beautifully because it captures a time when the American hills spawned such unique talent (Lynn's contemporaries are either showcased or mentioned to great effect).
Of special note: If Oscars could be given for past work, Beverly D'Angelo should be voted the "Best Supporting Actress" of 1980 for this film. Unfortunately, she was not even nominated. You will be hard-pressed to find such a complete performance in film. Similar in screen time and impact as Dame Judi Dench's performance in "Shakespeare In Love", D'Angelo gives a Master Class in screen acting for her portrayal of the late Patsy Cline. Most likely, this flash of brilliance is what inspired the film "Sweet Dreams", the bio-pic of Cline, a film that pales in comparison to "Coal Miner's Daughter."
This is Spacek's only Oscar win thus far out of six nominations. She's a national treasure and this performance is outstanding. However, you should see this film for all its elements, working to create an outstanding picture. Highly recommended.