Problems lie in two areas — Mandrell’s tunnel-visioned version of what’s presented as truth, and fact that pic would have been more commercially viable when her hits were more than a distant memory. Or, maybe, in a few years, after her acting credits range further than a stint on “Sunset Beach” and a few guest spots on “Touched by an Angel.”
Story flashes back from 1986 Universal Amphitheater concert billed as her comeback after recuperation from a serious automobile accident in October, 1984. After brief intro, it’s back to Mandrell’s youthful precocity on instruments including steel guitar and saxophone, straight through her marriage to Ken Dudney (Greg Kean), the drummer in her father’s band; retirement from and subsequent return to music; and career than included several Top 10 country records, 1980-82 NBC network variety series; two Country Music Association “Entertainer of the Year” citations, etc.
Commendably, Linda Bergman’s script demonstrates Mandrell’s strong determination to succeed in her career, here shown forsaking her education to take to the road; giving up her “retirement” without consulting Dudney (who’s pursuing his own career as a military pilot, which he subsequently abandons to manage her); and fretting that her first pregnancy will hinder her quest for stardom. Though her choices worked out O.K., some viewers may be turned off by Mandrell’s ferocious self-involvement.
Longtime fans might wonder, too, what happened to sisters Irlene and Louise, played here by Jaime Nicole Dudney and Portia Dawson. In real life, her attractive siblings toured extensively with Barbara (until Louise’s own career took off) and the three were signed as a unit to a TV contract by producers Sid and Marty Krofft. Here, Barbara fires sisters early on, and TV show is her own.
Another oddity is that pic’s soundtrack concentrates on Mandrell’s earlier singles, reviving R&B hits for the country market, rather than later, more pop-oriented singles that were much bigger successes — though the biggest of ’em all, “I Was Country when Country Wasn’t Cool” (1981) is presented, briefly, as high point of “comeback” concert. A dummied-up trade paper headline reading that Mandrell’s 1973 “Midnight Oil” ” tops the chart” might be taken as typical artist hyperbole (the single reached only No. 7 in Billboard), but pointless hype since six later singles did top the real paper’s country chart).
Highest acting marks are reserved for Dwight Schultz as Mandrell’s father, Irby; rock musician and actor John Doe appears briefly as Joe Maphis, the real-life guitarist who originally discovered Mandrell (“That girl is going real far, real fast,” he tells Irby, before he’s heard her sing and thus evidently sensing a strong demand for teenage, female steel guitar players). Most of rest of cast are as stiff as Bergman’s script under Jerry London’s direction.