Music City, NSW
Logic will assume that Doing Time for Patsy Cline is geared to cash in on the world boom in Johnny Cash, and country in general, fired by Walk the Line. But logic will be wrong, for, inspired by a friend’s falsely comforting postcards from a jail in Mexico and Patsy Cline’s “Railway to Heaven,” writer-director-producer Chris Kennedy’s finished work lay on the shelves for nine years. Done on limited budget in remotest New South Wales, with additional shoots in Sydney and a neon Nashville, this consideration of the dreams people chase and the sometimes rewards of failing to realize them, is only now emerging from mothballs by coincidence.
Ancillary to that tale of regeneration and triumph that was Coal Miner’s Daughter, crossover pioneer and Rolling Stone’s “bulwark of feminine fortitude” Cline died young at the height of the commercial success that this film’s Ralph Smith (Matt Day) sacrifices but continues to dream of. And just as Sissy Spacek did her own Loretta Lynn singing in the 1980 biopic, as Ralph’s Marilyn-like muse named Patsy, Miranda Otto is just fine herself on country standards and Peter Best’s original theme, the Stones-reminiscent “Dead Red Roses.”
Mixing whimsy, cold reality, a little too much near slapstick, wish-fulfillment flashforwards, and different color schemes for its four locations, the result is warmly affirmative and watchable, “nowhere near as serious as it sounds.” Following the hoary pattern, only child Ralph leaves Mum and Dad’s (Annie Byron and Roy Billing) dry, dead-end farm for fame and fortune, in this case half-a-world away in Tennessee. In the flat dun emptiness, he falls asleep hitching to Sydney’s airport but is picked up by the alternately cooing and bickering Boyd (Richard Roxburgh) and his red-haired love Patsy.
In pinstripes and supercharged-six Jaguar, flashy Boyd is filled with himself and his supposed adventures and successes in exotic places, enormous fortunes made, lost and to be gotten again. Cloyingly stroking her mate’s ego, she winds up sobbing and sleeping in Ralph’s motel bed; he fancies her, after his innocent twenty-one-year-old virgin’s fashion, but they remain chaste through his many visions of their country duo fame from Parker Studios to Printer’s Alley in Nashvegas’ The District, from BMC, Sony and MCA to Grand Ole Opry.
Hot air and all, Boyd is packing an automatic pistol and trying his novice hand at transporting amphetamines, and while he and Ralph are handcuffed following a highway chase, Patsy escapes unnoticed. Population 16,005, Griffith has a jail run by nice cops and housing a couple small-time offenders who play country music, and is at the moment in the middle of a tongue-in-cheek overchoreographed music festival.
The guards and rural toughs in the adjoining lockup come to appreciate Ralph’s purity and talent, just as he reaches an understanding of the inner person behind cellmate Boyd’s bluster. The long, grey prison sections are intercut with further comedy in dun ill-advised clips of the young man’s parents down home and with red-and-blue daydreams of him and Patsy as the acclaimed singing Madison Twins, on the verge but still unphysical, with Boyd hovering as their relatively harmless Svengali.
The flesh-and-blood Patsy reappears, not in rhinestone cowgirl getup or dowdy flowery print dress, but in grown-up black, vulnerable and bearing sad news. Inspired by a young guard’s conjugal love and Disneyland snapshots, Ralph realizes the nature of dreams as against reality and, in fact and in vision, will bring happiness to three couples -- the lovers, his own parents, and those of an estranged music impresario.
With unobjectionable cornball, he grasps his own future, too, a new birth for the dream while doing time in an unlikely venue. No promises now, but that’s okay, for hope does spring eternal.
(Released by Oilrag Productions; not rated by MPAA.)