While biopic of defunct mother-daughter country duo the Judds may not be exactly what the public was clamoring for, this four-hour miniseries (exec produced by mom Naomi) is above average for the genre, with a lot of good music in addition to the expected hard times and heartaches.
From small-town Kentucky, single mother Diana Judd virtually reinvented herself and daughter Christina as “Naomi” and “Wynonna”; duo’s first RCA single was a hit in 1983, and they never looked back. Judds separated professionally in 1991, purportedly due to Naomi’s battle with hepatitis. Wynonna went on to a solo career, while Mom, now remarried, wrote the book upon which this show is based. Second daughter, Ashley, is a model and actress, seen most recently in “Sisters.”
Named after duo’s 1990 hit single, “Love Will Build a Bridge” begins and ends with the Judds’ final concert, which was aired as a pay-per-view television event and released on homevideo. In between is duo’s life, starting with Diana’s teenage years and first marriage. Second two hours detail their rise to almost instant stardom.
Film is narrated by real-life Ashley, replacing previously recorded voiceover by Megan Ward, who plays her in her adult incarnation (Elizabeth Moss, Mae Whitman and Piper Lincoln portray Ashley in earlier years).
Kathleen York and Cari Shayne play Naomi, with Viveka Davis, Laura Morgan, Sandee Van Dyke, Krystal Benn and twins Karlie and Kirstie Brown as Wynonna at various ages. Adults York and Davis resemble their prototypes acceptably. Singing voices are provided by real-life Judds.
Main problem, though not major, is that the script, by Rama Laurie Stagner (who wrote the feature “Blue Sky”), doesn’t give Naomi or Wynonna enough credit. Naomi is here shown as more showbiz-naive than she was. She’s shown working at an L.A. coffee shop, but not shown working for 5th Dimension manager Marc Gordon , which Naomi also did (she also modeled while in Los Angeles, with credits including at least one album cover). Understandably a bit rebellious — how would you like working with your parent or sibling 24 hours a day? — the real Wynonna, though uneducated, is smarter and wittier than shown.
First two hours hammer away at Judds’ rough early life, which wasn’t nearly as harrowing as that endured by many Americans. Still ripe for analysis is Wynonna’s attitude toward her music: Early on, she seems incapable of sustaining interest in anything else, yet it’s Naomi who’s optimistic about their future as professional entertainers.
Notable supporting performances are turned in by David Purdham as Diana’s first husband; Chris Mulkey as a semi-sleazy L.A. boyfriend; and Bruce Greenwood as Larry Strickland, a lapsed gospel singer who, after a rocky romance, becomes Naomi’s second husband. Melinda Dillon is seen, too briefly, as Diana’s mother, and Paul Bartel has (for him) a restrained turn as Nashville disc jockey and eminence grise Ralph Emery.
Stagner’s script includes welcome flashes of wit; Bobby Roth keeps a tight rein; production designer Stephen Storer and director of photography Shelly Johnson make the most of various L.A. locations. And, of course, the music’s great.