If you thought Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman was one of the last tough-spirited females portrayed by Hollywood during the turn of the century, think again.
Enter Songcatcher Dr. Lily Penleric, played by Golden Globe winner Janet McTeer (last seen in Tumbleweeds), whose determination and drive not only win her acceptance from the Appalachian natives, but a romance as well.
Dr. Penleric is a musicologist at a prestigious university where she is passed over for another promotion simply because she is female. Fed up with the good-old-boy network, she visits her schoolteacher sister Elna (Jane Adams) in the Appalachian Mountains.
Convieniantly accompanied by her phonograph, she realizes that she has stumbled into undocumented roots of folk and bluegrass music. With the help of local Viney Butler (Pat Carroll), Penleric becomes known as the “Songcatcher” by all she meets, as she dedicates her time to recording and scoring the natives’ music for a new book. Along the way, she learns about the problems faced by the mountain people and additionally becomes the love interest of the blue-contact-lens clad Aiden Quinn, Viney’s son.
Although Songcatcher will probably end up on Lifetime Television for Women, the acting is well done and the lighting and scenery are beautiful.
McTeer is a very believable heroine, coming off as both visually/physically realistic and emotionally tough, determined to research her work at any cost. Yet at times she is able to show a soft and vulnerable side when things take a turn for the worst.
The music, though at times a bit twangy, is fantastic. For the most part it fits the pace of the movie excellently; the viewer is unaware that “background music” exists as the visual and audio melt into one cohesive unit.
Songcatcher even manages to weave in such topics as marital fighting, graphic childbirth, a runaway deadbeat husband, cheating on one’s spouse, a jilted woman’s vigilante justice, arson, and believe it or not, lesbianism and homophobia. Though a lot to handle for one movie, the issues are integrated so seamlessly that the viewer hardly notices the breadth.
Although the ending is a tad cheesy and a once pure folk song turns into a super commercialized Q102 ballad during the last scene, Songcatcher will leave you content and if nothing else, humming a happy tune.