What is the purpose of a film?
Depending on the type, the answer varies. Some are created to frighten, others to educate or experiment. Almost all of them are created to entertain, which is the most difficult thing to do. When it comes to biopics, their purpose should be to celebrate the life of a person or group. Eddie the Eagle and Race did so to varying degrees of success. You would walk out of those films with newfound knowledge and respect for their chosen individuals.
With this in mind, I Saw the Light in unintentionally ingenious.
It subverts the purpose of biopics by making its subjects’ life so utterly boring that audiences will constantly be asking themselves why on earth someone decided to make a movie about it. I didn’t know who Hank Williams was before I saw this movie and I certainly didn’t know who he was by the end of it.
I could spend paragraphs talking about the at times unexplainably shaky camera or the odd choice of camera angles or the lack of chemistry between Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen. I could talk about how I am still perplexed by the lack of music used to tell the story of this supposedly notable musician.
But I won’t.
I Saw the Light fails because of its story. It spends too much time telling and not enough showing, which is surprising for a movie that is just over two hours long. The things it does show us aren’t important and don’t add any depth or weight the characters or their relationships. It skips over pivotal moments where characters meet or fight or are shown in any type of negative light. No character develops or has any emotional resonance. This makes the story feel odd because such obvious story beats are craved by the audience.
There is also no sense of time in this film. Despite it telling audiences what the date is, people will still find themselves confused and unsure about how much time has passed between scenes. This causes the film to seem disjointed. One minute, Hank is happy. The next, he’s divorcing his wife and we are left wondering what went wrong.
There is no logic behind the actions of several characters. The film only mentions Hank’s chronic back pain twice and when its initially introduced, its played as a joke. If such intense pain forces someone to become an addict, you would think it would be a constant presence throughout the film.
There is no harm in focusing on quiet moments. But without drama or excitement, a film runs the risk if being boring. The best moments of the film are when Hank performs because those are the only scenes where he seems as charismatic as he was in real life.
Sadly, we only get a few.
The film ends with a sound bite of the televised announcement of Hank Williams’ death. The voice tells us that in his six-year career, Hank Williams recorded 35 Top Ten singles. It tells us that he died at the young age of 29.
In less than a minute, we are told of his accomplishments.
In the last seconds of the film, we finally understand why it was made.
Hank Williams was a genius.
And this film did everything in its power to make us think otherwise.
I Saw the Light was released April 1, 2016.