If you watched the Lifetime movie Ring of Fire last night, odds are you spent the whole time comparing it to Walk the Line, another Johnny Cash/June Carter Cash biopic named after a song. This is especially likely if you watched Walk the Line on Oxygen last night when it aired directly before Ring of Fire. Lady channels. Always competing, am I right? I personally tried my best not to let that other, Oscar-winning movie affect my perception of this film. That didn’t work very well, unfortunately. It’s just so unnecessary to retell this story so soon. Sure, this movie purports to give us June’s point of view as opposed to Johnny’s, but most of the movie occurs during their marriage, and it examines the same issues Walk the Line did, only with less complexity. That said, Jewel and her ever-changing hairdos are a reason to try it out, and the five songs per minute (that’s what it felt like) are a reason to stick it out.
Let’s start with Jewel, shall we? I said a couple of months ago that her performance looked promising, because based on a clip, she convincingly mimicked June Carter’s stage persona. And that still proved to be true in the movie. Unfortunately, it felt like she never totally lost that style of performing for the rest of the movie. That voice she did veered into Target Lady territory at times, and it felt like a bit of a caricature in the more serious scenes. I think maybe trying to imitate June got in the way of a real, emotional performance. However, I have to give a lot of credit to Jewel for treating the role with respect and doing a pretty good job for someone who’s not known for acting. She blew Lindsay Lohan’s Elizabeth Taylor out of the water, so that’s a plus!
The supporting cast was good as well. Again, nothing amazing. Just okay. Frances Conroy and Matt Ross had an American Horror Story season one reunion (I just recently caught up, so I’m excited) as June’s mother and Johnny Cash, respectively. Nothing to write home about, but not offensive.
I think most of my problem with this movie is that it felt like a History Channel reenactment. It’s a typical problem with Lifetime‘s true story movies that they read like a checklist of key events instead of an emotional journey. Because this was a TV movie that had to fit into two commercial-filled hours, the filmmakers had to include a lot of material in a very short time frame in order to completely cover June’s life from childhood until death. What results is a “three years later” or “six years later” or any number of “years later” popping up onscreen every few minutes. This sacrifices a natural narrative flow and makes it feel rushed. There are happy moments, then moments where Johnny has a drug problem, then back to happy, then back to sad. Here’s the scene where they have a baby. Here’s the scene where they get married again. There was no time to fully understand June and Johnny’s relationship. Instead of taking this approach, they would have been better served to zero in on a few specific aspects of June’s life and examine them in ways that would have shed light on her story and given us more emotion. I had very little investment in this story because I felt like I was reading about it in a textbook. There are only so many big ’60s hairdos for me to ogle before I get bored. I was actually craving a little Liz & Dick-style melodrama. That’s a bad sign.
While I wasn’t blown away by the way the movie told the story, I thoroughly enjoyed the music. Jewel has an incredible voice (otherwise I wouldn’t own all her albums), and hearing her sing “Ring of Fire” mid-writing process with an acoustic guitar was lovely. The onstage performances are great as well, and they happen almost as often as the dialogue scenes.
Overall, an unnecessary movie that ends up being mediocre but musically (and hairically) entertaining. Now onto the Jodi Arias movie! Hurry up, Lifetime, you’re too slow.