"FOLK MUSIC, hillbilly—it's sincere," Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) tells an inquisitive New York reporter about halfway through I Saw the Light, in what's intended to be the film's pivotal mic drop moment.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for I Saw the Light, a movie marred by dull performances and overwrought dialogue. As one of the most important and influential American songwriters of the 20th century, Williams is ripe for the biopic treatment. And like most geniuses who die young, his untimely passing only ensured his timelessness. Unlike Elvis, Johnny Cash, or Brian Wilson, Williams never had the opportunity to tarnish his legacy (unless you count his shitty offspring). His talent was immense and meteoric; his entire career spanned six short years.
Which is precisely what makes I Saw the Light such a wasted opportunity. Though ostensibly a music biopic, it feels geared more toward E.L. James' readership than anyone with even a casual interest in classic country. Details about Williams' career are benched in favor of juicy digressions into his philandering—a documented facet of his personal life, sure, but an awkward narrative centerpiece. Meanwhile, Williams' relationship with wife Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen)—who's depicted here as a Yoko Ono-esque hanger-on—is oversimplified, and the film implies the crux of their dysfunctional relationship is a one-sided musical rivalry.
Throughout, Williams is painted as an unsympathetic, emotionally stunted playboy—a lazy and only semi-accurate characterization of someone who was an extremely complex individual. As a film about Hank Williams, I Saw the Light leaves a lot to be desired. As a film about human relationships, it isn't much better.