The least-credited art in any form of movies is casting, a fact of which I was reminded while watching NAOMI & WYNONNA: LOVE CAN BUILD A BRIDGE (NBC, May 14 and 15, 9-11 p.m. each night). It’s a mostly misguided four-hour TV film about the mother-daughter country duo the Judds, but the stars fit the bill to perfection. Based on Naomi Judd’s 1993 autobiography, Love Can Build a Bridge, this made-for-television saga is too long by half: The first night — which traces Naomi’s poor Kentucky youth through her brother’s death from cancer, her early marriage, and motherhood to daughters Wynonna and Ashley — is almost entirely superfluous. With all due respect, we are not made to care enough about Naomi’s rough early years; director Bobby Roth (The Switch) makes this material into little more than an hour of soap opera cliches. We are left to yearn for the stuff we’ve been waiting for: the Judds’ rocky rise to fame, and Naomi’s notoriously prickly personal and professional relationship with Wynonna, an immensely gifted vocalist who seems to have been thoroughly screwed up by her wayward upbringing.
Before going any further, let’s give full congratulations to Molly Lopata for casting Kathleen York as Naomi, Viveka Davis as Wynonna, and Megan Ward as Ashley. Each resembles her subject both physically and psychically, which is to say, these actors capture their subjects’ verbal tics and emotional attitudes with startling impeccability. It’s one thing to nail the way the middle-aged Naomi persists in dressing and behaving like a human Barbie doll; but York also gets to Naomi’s steel core, to the out-of-nowhere ambition that enabled her to rise above poverty and become a country star. Similarly, Davis’ take on Wynonna is that, insecure about her looks and confused about her identity — is she Naomi’s daughter, partner, meal ticket? — the younger woman becomes a spoiled brat, argumentative and petulant.
Naomi & Wynonna is obliged to spend some time reproducing performances of the Judds’ hits, which are sounding more thin and tinny by the second. The fact is, a four-hour television movie about an act as pop culturally slight as the Judds just ain’t worth it. C