“I Saw the Light” is another would be Oscar biopic

i saw the light
Back in the midst of 2015, it seemed like the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light was all set to be a big Academy Award player. Considering how small this week’s platform release of the film is, as well as its middling festival circuit reception, that seems less than likely, but it is somewhat interesting to take note of. The main point of consideration was going to be Tom Hiddleston as Williams, as well as potentially Elizabeth Olsen as wife Audrey Williams, though now I suspect they’re fringe players at best. I’ll return to their Oscar hopes later on in this article, but I just wanted to cite this film today since it’s one of a ton hoping to be a biopic contender in 2016.

The movie is a fairly standard biopic. Of course, the subject is legendary country-western singer Hank Williams and his life that was cut short. Hiddleston plays Williams, who sees his stratospheric rise to fame negatively affect his health as well as the well being of those around him, including wife Audrey (Olsen). So yes, the film more or less hits all of the biopic beats you’d expect when chronicling a musician who has since passed away. Marc Abraham directs and adapted the screenplay, while the cast, in addition to the aforementioned Hiddleston and Olsen, includes Maddie Hasson, Cherry Jones, David Krumholtz, Josh Pais, Bradley Whitford, and more, with cinematography by the highly regarded Dante Spinotti. So, you can see how this might have seemed like a slam dunk contender, at least before it began screening, that is.

As much as I Saw the Light is being dismissed, reviews ever since the Toronto Film Festival last year have been kind to Hiddleston and especially Olsen. The thing is, there’s so many other biopics coming this year that it’s almost a sure thing that we’ll see this one get pushed to the side/forgotten about entirely. That’s the danger in being a flick that traffics in something audiences and voters get so consistently. If you don’t hit a sweet spot of critical and financial acclaim, you’re pretty much dismissed. So many top notch ones fall short already, when you’re not quite up to snuff, it’s almost an impossible proposition you’re making to the Academy.

Should things somehow turn around for this one, I’m sure we’ll see it get a push for Oscar attention in the fall. Campaigns could be launched for Best Picture, Best Director (for Abraham), Best Actor (for Hiddleston), Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress (for Olsen), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Abraham), Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing are ones that come to mind immediately. They might all be pipe dreams, but there’s at least a chance that Hiddleston or more likely Olsen remains in the conversation once the precursors begin. Category placement might matter a lot, but then again, this could already be dead in the water, so it might not be a factor at all.

Overall, this weekend will be the first test of if this one will be a player at all or not. If it can hit with audiences where it hasn’t with critics so far, that might get it into a spot where it can return to contention and be worth a look from voters later on in 2016. I’m not banking on that happening, but there’s at least a chance. For now, make up your own mind and give it a shot if you’re a fan of Williams’ music or Hiddleston/Olsen. They do their part, so they may not let you down. Time will tell, but this just doesn’t seem like it’ll be one we’re still talking about when 2016 has its awards season begin…

I Saw the Light is in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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