Picks and Pans Review: Naomi & Wynonna: Love Can Build a Bridge

UPDATED 05/15/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/15/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

NBC (Sun., May 14, 9 p.m. ET)

A-

This disarming film biography of Naomi Judd follows the country singer from corn bread to caviar. From the time we meet her as a 14-year-old with braces going out on her first date in Ashland, Ky., Naomi (born Diana Ellen Judd) is a gal determined to wring everything she can from life. Her early trials—the death of a beloved brother from Hodgkins' disease as well as a teenage pregnancy and joyless shotgun marriage—would make for mawkish and melancholy drama were it not for a luminous performance by Cari Shayne as the teenage Naomi.

There is a decided (albeit temporary) letdown when Kathleen York enters the picture as the adult Naomi. Part of the problem is that York looks far more like another country singer, Kathy Mat-tea, than she does Naomi. Another casting wrinkle—one which eventually also gets ironed out—is Viveka Davis as Wynonna, Naomi's daughter, domestic opponent and singing partner. Davis's performance is so extravagantly ham-my that she seems to be aiming for a cross between Brett Butler and Ethel Merman. Eventually you come to recognize all that showboating for what it is: a nervy portrayal of a woman subject to emotional highs and lows.

One of the real accomplishments of this miniseries lies in the stirring quality of its musical renderings. (This is where the Jackson family miniseries fell down almost three years ago.) From the time Wynonna sings Joni Mitchell's "Clouds" at a school talent contest to an extended, climactic re-creation of the Judds' farewell concert, the music is sonorous and soaring.

The film's 4-hour length (the conclusion airs on Monday) leads inevitably to a certain degree of narrative drift. But Naomi's story is ultimately sweet, surprising and even inspirational. Personally I'm rooting tor Naomi and Wynonna: The Series.

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