Director: Dustin Lance Black
Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black
Producer: Scott J. Brooks, Hopwood DePree, Christine Vachon
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Harrison Gilbertson, Emma Roberts, Toby Jones
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 116 min.
The opening credits of Dustin Lance Black’s Virginia suggests a classic tale of the southern melodrama while the trailer sets up a comedy about a woman getting even but Black’s directorial debut doesn’t deliver on either account.
In a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, Virginia is the long-time mistress of the town Sheriff. She has a teenage son named Emmett (who happens to be in love with the Sheriff’s daughter, but is afraid she may be his sister), she has history of mental illness and she’s recently found out that she’s dying. Yes, lots of awkward comedy fodder. During a night of kinky sex, Virginia tells Tipton that she’s pregnant with his baby. He wants it gone because having a pregnant mistress isn’t good for his political career but Virginia is determined to keep the baby. The imaginary baby. You see she knows she’s not pregnant, we know she’s not pregnant and her son knows there’s no baby but for some unexplained reason (other than the fact that Virginia was once diagnosed with schizophrenia and the suggestion that she occasionally slips into crazy territory), she pushes the pregnancy angle and starts to tell everyone she’s carrying the Sheriff’s baby.
No one seems particularly surprised and the debacle doesn’t affect Tipton’s political aspirations, almost as if the town’s well-to-do Sheriff is entitled to have an affair with the town crazy lady, but everything starts to crumble when Tipton stops paying Virginia baby “hush money.” Things get worse when Emmett decides to run away with Tipton’s daughter and they devise a plan to rip off the local amusement park on the busiest day of the year and escape to California. All of these bits of comedy, including an attempted bank robbery with a gorilla mask, don’t pay off and if anyting, seem at odds with the movie’s final showdown which ends in tragedy.
There are a few other interesting tidbits to this story, namely Tipton’s wife who eventually figures out that her husband is a cheating bastard and the amusement park owner who likes to cross dress, but the script is messy with too many side plots that are interesting but add little to the overall story which, from the title and the main thrust of the movie seems to be Virginia’s story. Yes, Toby Jones is great as the cross dressing Max but his character seems to be there simply for the joy of having a cross dressing guy in town; sure it offers up a few giggles but what’s the point?
Black weaves the story in an interesting manner, letting the audience discover the truth of the characters rather than explaining the details with voiceover but the story quickly devolves and loses focus. The performances, though mostly good, don’t manage to rescue the movie which has massive problems with tone. Sometimes it tries to be a comedy and others a serious drama but the moments never feel authentic and the constant change is both tiresome and unfair to the characters who wander from scene to scene with little consistency. Ed Harris and Amy Madigan are particularly good as the Sheriff and wife, each living in their own little world, but Jennifer Connelly’s Virginia is too large for the story and her performance is flamboyant, almost a caricature; this is particularly obvious when she goes on one of her emotional binges – which is often.
Severely re-edited after a horrendous reception at TIFF in 2010, Virginia still doesn’t work and though there are some good moments buried under layers of mess, there simply aren’t enough of them to make Virginia worthwhile. Hopefully Black’s next project will fare batter.
Virginia is available on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, August 21st.
DVD Extras: Making of featurette.
Click “play” to see the trailer: