Biopic looks at Twain's early years

Meredith Henderson is one of three actors who play Shania Twain from age eight to 27 in a new film...

Meredith Henderson is one of three actors who play Shania Twain from age eight to 27 in a new film airing tomorrow.

BILL HARRIS - Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:09 PM ET

The following statement appears on-screen at the end of Shania: A Life In Eight Albums:

"While Shania Twain did not participate in the production of this movie, it has been inspired by the story of her life."

Had that sentence been displayed at the beginning of the two-hour made-for-TV biopic (tonight, 8 p.m., CBC), it would have been perceived as a warning label.

On the contrary, this program is fairly well-done. Nonetheless, it quickly will become obvious to you that Shania herself had nothing to do with this flick.

What's sorely lacking is any of Shania's actual music.

True, that old Hank Williams country classic I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry is one of the best ballads ever written. But by the end of this show you'll be so sick of it you could cry. The producers keep going back to it again and again, with no original Shania melodies to lean upon.

Shania's big hits aren't meant to be here anyway, since A Life In Eight Albums focuses on the struggles of Eileen Twain -- her real name -- from 1973 to 1993. It wasn't till the early '90s that Shania first spoke with famous producer Mutt Lange (famous to everyone except Shania, that is), and their subsequent professional and personal partnership propelled Shania from cutesy cowpoke curiosity to sizzling superstar.

In fact, that initial phone conversation between Twain and Lange is the subject of the closing scene.

Lange: "This is Mutt Lange."

Twain: "Mutt?"

Lange: "Yeah, Mutt. It's a nickname."

Twain: "God, I hope so."

Meredith Henderson plays Twain as a young adult, Shenae Grimes plays Twain from the ages of 13 to 16, and Reva Timbers plays Twain from the ages of 8 to 11. None of the three actresses is the spitting image of Twain, but they're close enough to bring her to mind. And all three actresses handle their own singing, which is quite impressive.

Twain's path to fame is well known. She persevered through a poverty-stricken upbringing in Northern Ontario and the tragic loss of her parents in a highway accident.

The show does a good job of portraying the struggles of mom Sharon (Megan Follows) and step-dad Jerry (Eric Schweig). These two people love their kids, but their desperate economic mess causes them to lash out at each other.

Speaking of Shania's parents, here's an irrelevant but comical observation: Isn't it odd how chain-smoking now provides an instant chronological touchtone, suggesting a bygone era?

On the whole, the portrait of Shania Twain that emerges is a complimentary one. Acts of petulance or impatience -- like when she's going through her Pat Benatar stage and snarls at a member of her mediocre rock combo, "Try to keep up with the band" -- are rare.

Much of the dramatic tension boils down to Shania's belief that she is a songwriter first and foremost, versus everyone else's idea that she's just a pretty face with a pretty voice and should be happy to yodel other people's tunes.

In the end, it's Mutt's belief in Shania's ability to write songs that turns around her career.

It sounds corny, sure. But you can't blame A Life In Eight Albums. After all, that's kind of the way it really happened.

THE TWAIN SKED

BORN

Eileen Regina Edwards on Aug. 28, 1965 in Windsor, Ont. Changed her name to Eileen Twain after her parents divorced and her mother remarried Jerry Twain and the family moved to Timmins.

STAR TURN

When she was just 13 Twain performed on CBC's Tommy Hunter Show.

TRAGEDY

In 1987 both of Twain's parents were killed in a car crash. She took her three siblings and moved them to Huntsville, where she supported the family by singing at Deerhurst Resort.

NEW NAME

Twain changed her name to Shania, an Ojibwa word meaning "I'm on my way", when she signed her first record contract in 1991. She recorded her first self-titled album. It went on to sell 2 million copies worldwide.

THE REAL SHANIA

In 1993 Twain met and married uberproducer Robert "Mutt" Lange and they wrote and recorded her second album, The Woman In Me. It became a massive success, selling 12 million copies. The album brought Twain the Grammy for best country album and the Academy of Country Music's album of the year and best new female vocalist awards.

SUPERSTAR

Twain's next album, Come On Over, in 1997 went on to become the best-selling album by a female artist of all time, the best-selling country album of all time and No. 6 on the list of best-selling albums. Come On Over sold 39 million copies worldwide.

AWARDS

5 Grammy Awards

3 Academy of Country Music Awards

1 Country Music Association Award

7 Juno Awards

6 American Music Awards

2 Billboard Music Awards

1 World Music Award

22 BMI Songwriting Awards


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