Hank Williams Biopic 'I Saw the Light' Trivializes Country Singer’s Remarkable Career

A tremendous country singer and songwriter who overcame his humble upbringing to become a huge star, Hank Williams lived the kind of life that lends itself to a cinematic rendering. Too often, however, I Saw the Light, the new biopic that opens areawide on Friday, dwells on his romantic relationships and not his musical abilities.

The film opens with a scene in which Hank (Tom Hiddleston) and his girlfriend Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) enlist a Justice of the Peace to marry them in the friendly confines of a gas station. The ink is still wet on Audrey’s divorce papers, but the two bond over their mutual love of country music, and Audrey motivates Hank to keep singing and recording even though he’s dissatisfied with his main gig, a morning stint on a Montgomery radio station.

Audrey’s relationship with Hank quickly becomes volatile as the two argue over just about everything, including whether or not Audrey should sing with Hank — the guys in Hank’s band don’t like her or her voice, and that creates a fair amount of tension.

Determined to get onto the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, Hank signs a deal with MCA Records, which helps propel his tune “Move It On Over” onto the charts. As a result of his fame, the Opry opens its doors to Hank, and he delivers a memorable performance on the Ryman Auditorium stage.

Hank quickly becomes a star and starts living like one too. He drinks excessively, and Audrey accuses him of having affairs while he’s on tour. Their divorce doesn’t come as a surprise.

Playing Williams, who struggled with addictions to alcohol and pain killers, requires a certain intensity, and Hiddleston certainly has that. The songs here sound great too, and Hiddleston capably handles the vocal duties. But while he bears a physical resemblance to Williams, he often appears a little too clean cut and acts more like he’s channeling advertising executive Don Draper than a hillbilly from Alabama.

That shortcoming aside, the real problem here lies with director Marc Abraham’s (Flash of Genius) script, which initially focuses too much on Williams’ failed marriage to Audrey and then shifts to his marriage to Billie Jean (Maddie Hasson), who becomes his second wife and widow in the wake of his untimely death. The film fails to explore how Williams, who reportedly couldn’t read or write music and could barely sign his name, wrote timeless songs such as “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “I Saw the Light.” 
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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