My Darling Vivian movie review (2020)

The new documentary “My Darling Vivian” hopes to offer her legacy—she passed away in 2005, just before the release of “Walk the Line”—a corrective to her depiction in various chronicles of Cash’s story (including the spoof performance by Kristin Wiig in the satirical cult favorite “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story“). Using a treasure trove of home movies, photos, and hundreds of love letters between Johnny and Vivian, along with interviews with her four daughters, acclaimed singer Roseanne Cash, Kathy Cash Tittle, Cindy Cash and Tars Cash Schwoebel, director Matt Riddlehoover presents a portrait of Vivian that is far more complex and detailed than has ever been seen before.

Vivian was a devoutly Catholic 17-year-old girl growing up as part of a Sicilian-American family in San Antonio when she met Johnny, then an Air Force cadet, at a local roller rink—there is much debate among their children about whether or not he deliberately bumped into her as a way of introducing himself. It was love at first sight between the two and went off to active duty in Germany, they sent each other nearly 1,000 love letters before he returned home. After coming back, the two married in 1954 and moved to Memphis. Nine months later, Roseanne was born and shortly after that, Johnny’s first record was released and he set off on tour. Before too long, his musical career skyrocketed and he found himself out on the road more, while Vivian stayed behind to raise their growing family—Kathy would be born a mere ten months after Roseanne and the other two would be born over the next couple of years.

This would be stressful enough under the best of circumstances but as time went on, the good times would grow progressively darker. Cash built a sprawling home atop a remote mountain in Casitas Springs, California, where they had relocated as part of an attempt to transform Johnny into a movie star a la Elvis Presley (he did appear in the immortal “Five Minutes to Live” a.k.a. “Door-to-Door Maniac”). Alas, he spent more time touring than at home, leaving Vivian to raise the kids and deal with that intruders ranged from Johnny’s fans to a seven-foot rattlesnake. Before long, drugs would enter his world as well (Roseanne talks about seeing him stoned for the first time and realizing “He wasn’t him”) and then there was his rumored relationship with June, which only exacerbated tensions. Eventually, Vivian would file for divorce, hoping that doing so would shock him to his senses, and was stunned when he agreed to it.

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