“Son, there are no shortcuts to the Opry.” And as we learn painfully in Mark Abraham’s bio-pic about country-western star Hank Williams, there are no shortcuts to telling a meaningful, rich story. Because I Saw the Light is not that work; rather it is a pastiche of scenes that mostly reminds us that actors are play-acting Williams’ life.
The film begins in 1944, when Williams (Tom Hiddleston) marries Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen), and it sticks hard to the domestic. That aspect of Williams’ life is tumultuous, but also familiar from dozens of musical bio-pics: Small-town boy acquires fame and fortune, and has trouble with family, women, drugs.
What’s missing is the music. Oh, there are some performances, and Hiddleston acquits himself surprisingly well at the mic, though his delivery leans more toward croon than Williams’ cry of a broken man. (Similarly, Hiddleston matches some physical characteristics well, but simply looks too healthy.) But we never get a sense of what music meant to Williams or how he harnessed it as a life-changing force. Despite a few scattershot nods, the film never fully explicates what a transformative entertainer Williams was, the depth and breadth of his popularity, and the lasting influence of his songwriting and performance. Starts Fri., April 1