It is a biopic dramatizing the rise to fame of country music star Loretta Lynn. The film opens with Loretta Webb (Spacek) as a 14-year-old girl in Kentucky coal-mining country in 1946. Doolittle Lynn (Jones), a charismatic rapscallion, comes home from World War II, falls in love with teenaged Loretta, and marries her over the objections of her parents. They temporarily separate but reunite before Doolittle moves the family to Washington state, where he gets work on a ranch. Doolittle notes his wife's singing talent and buys her a cheap guitar. Doolittle then notes the exceptional music his wife is producing with said guitar and pushes her into playing for audiences at dance halls and honky tonks. When Loretta proves herself exceptionally good at that as well, Doolittle keeps pushing, getting Loretta to make a record—and her march to superstardom begins.
Levon Helm, best known as drummer and singer for The Band, made his film debut as Loretta's father Ted. Beverly D'Angelo plays Patsy Cline, who became close friends with Loretta. Sissy Spacek and Beverly D'Angelo did all their own singing for the movie.
- Amazing Freaking Grace: Played at the funeral of Loretta's father.
- Autobiographical Role: Country music stars Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb and country comedienne Minnie Pearl have cameos as themselves, after Loretta hits the big time.
- Auto Erotica: Loretta catches Doolittle canoodling in the backseat of a car with another woman. In another scene Doolittle and Loretta pull off to the side of the road for sex.
- Company Town: Butcher's Hollow, KY is this. After Ted Webb collects his paycheck from the coal mining company, he goes straight to the company store to spend it.
- Conversation Cut: Doolittle, who isn't happy with life anyway as he's stuck mining coal, comes home and starts complaining about how Loretta is bad at cooking and bad at cleaning house and bad at sex. He stalks out to the porch and Loretta says "Are you leavin'?" Doolittle pauses and then says "No, I ain't leavin'", and the film cuts to Loretta walking home after Doolittle has thrown her out of the house.
- Dances and Balls: Loretta and Doolittle's romance starts at a town ball.
- Dead Guy Junior: Loretta names one of her newborn daughters after Patsy Cline, her close friend and idol who had died in a plane crash.
- Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: How Loretta's parents react to her going out with Doo. She apparently extends the same discipline to her own children.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Loretta tells Patsy that she's pregnant again and that she isn't sure she wants the baby, as she's already had several babies and she and Doolittle are in a rough patch in their marriage. Patsy says no, she should be excited, and that's it for any thoughts of Loretta getting an abortion.
- Haven't You Seen X Before?: When Loretta meets Patsy Cline, Cline says "You act like you ain't never seen a glamorous country music singer before." The joke is that Cline is laid up in a hospital and bandaged, with two black eyes, after being injured in a car wreck.
- Hillbilly Moonshiner: When the local Hillbilly Moonshiner tries to enlist Doolittle to help him raid a rival moonshiner's stock, Doolittle refuses. This proves wise when the hillbilly moonshiner is shot and killed.
- Innocent Swearing: When they're buying baloney at a store, Doo says that baloney makes you horny. Supremely innocent Loretta asks what "horny" means, whereupon Doo cackles with laughter and picks her up. Unfortunately Loretta takes this to mean that "horny" means having fun and making mischief ("cutting up"), so when she's interviewed on the radio she starts talking about how baloney makes her husband horny, much to Doo's horror.
- Lethal Chef: Doo and Loretta first meet when he tries a pie that Loretta made, where she ended up using salt instead of sugar.
- Marital Rape License: When 14-year-old virgin Loretta panics on their wedding night, Doolittle rapes her.
- Music Stories: Girl from hillbilly country gets famous!
- Percussive Maintenance: Loretta kicks her washing machine when it starts to stall, and the washing machine sputters back to life.
- P.O.V. Cam: Seen from the POV of a man who shoots a rival moonshiner in the chest for stealing his stock.
- Stealth InsultRadio guy: Quit that dumb hillbilly act!
Doolittle: Mister, if you knew Loretta, you'd know that ain't no act.
Loretta: (sincerely) Thanks, Doo.
- Teen Pregnancy: Loretta has her first baby at just 14 years old and has three more kids before age 19.
- Three Chords and the Truth: "It ain't got but three chords", says Loretta at her first recording session, and this is true of most of her simple musical style.
- Titled After the Song: Technically it's titled after Loretta Lynn's biography The Coal Miner's Daughter, which was titled after her Signature Song "Coal Miner's Daughter".
- Title Drop: Loretta is announced by an MC as "the coal miner's daughter" in the last scene, right before she sings the title song.
- Video Credits: Clips from the movie at the end as the names of the main players come up on the screen.
- Would Hit a Girl: Doolittle doesn't do this as a habit but he does smack Loretta a couple of times when he gets pissed off, like when he's angry about being pushed aside as her manager.
- Younger Than They Look: Doolittle mentions this as a side effect of coal mining; he doesn't want "be an old man at 40."