A sheriff sees his state senate bid slide out onto the ice when his daughter begins to date the son of a charming but psychologically disturbed woman with whom the sheriff has engaged in a two-decade-long affair.
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Virginia is a charming, yet mentally ill mother whose greatest love is her protector and illegitimate son, Emmett. But her longest love belongs to the local-married-Mormon Sheriff, who is running for public office and might very well be Emmett's father. This boardwalk town's well-kept secrets are threatened when Virginia's son begins a romantic relationship with Tipton's daughter. "What's Wrong With Virginia" is a humorous, heartfelt drama that pokes at the American dream as it charges toward a climactic shoot out that begs the question: can a woman like Virginia ever play the part of mom? Written by
There's nothing wrong with Virginia, but there might be a mormon boy in her closet!
I was fortunate enough to attend the world premiere of Dustin Lance Black's highly personal, unique, and heartfelt new film, "What's Wrong With Virginia", in Toronto. The film owns a quirky charm that reminds me of Tony Richardson's "The Hotel New Hampshire" (1984, based on John Irving's novel), yet with its own very personal style. Jennifer Connelly, more beautiful than ever at 39, gives her best performance since 2003's "House of Sand and Fog". She plays Virginia Nicholaus, a mentally ill single mom who's had an affair with the local Mormon (and married) Sheriff Dick Tipton (Ed Harris, great as always) for 16 years. Her teenaged son, Emmett (newcomer Harrison Gilbertson, very convincing and simply adorable) is her only real love, and their relationship is the real core of the film (Black has stated the film is loosely based on his relationship with his mom). Things get complicated when Emmett - who may or may not be the Sheriff's son - starts dating Dick's daughter, Jessie Tipton (Emma Roberts), and how that and an unwelcome 'revelation' by Virginia can ruin Dick's political goals and marriage.
Black, who won a much deserved Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Gus Van Sant's "Milk" (and gave a groundbreaking, already classic acceptance speech), is not just a terrific writer, but also a natural actor's director. He extracts great performances from his ensemble, and although this is clearly Connelly's show, other cast members deserve to be mentioned: Amy Madigan, married to Ed Harris in real life and in the film, gives a moving, understated performance that could've easily been overplayed/clichéd; she's one of our most underrated character actresses. Carrie Preston, of "True Blood" fame and the best thing about "Duplicity", plays Virginia's friend Betty with gusto, and Toby Jones ("Infamous") is great in a character that starts out as creepy to later become human and even endearing. Yeardley Smith, mostly known as the voice of Lisa Simpson, also has a small part and is one of the executive producers of the film (Christine Vachon and Gus Van Sant himself, who don't get involved with just any kind of material, are some of the others who helped bring this project to life).
"What's Wrong With Virginia" provides lots of laughs and a considerable emotional punch that almost made me sob by the end. It's humorous and outrageous, tragic yet optimistic; it made me feel a range of emotions that most films out there fall short of. Well done, again, Mr. Black! It's comforting to know real auteurs are still blossoming in the world of cinema.
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