Monday, November 9, 2015

Big Stone Gap (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Big Stone Gap

Here we are in the film version of "Big Stone Gap" by director Adriana Trigiani. Right from the start, the film shows promise as we are placed square in the West Virginia mining town with old footage and a flavorful intro voiceover by Ashley Judd who plays the main character, Ave Maria.

There is a general store, an open air stage, a main street and last, but certainly not least, the iconic Mutual Pharmacy, a town hub and social center, the very bullseye of town drama. We see the miners shuffling off to work as a real life version of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Compelling it is to watch these opening seconds as it recalls several films, from "Blue Velvet" to Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt."

This is the essence of small town life. The director knows her stuff and this is no accident: Big Stone Gap is the director's hometown. If only the film could have sustained this vivacity. Instead, what we have is a superfluous and somewhat silly rehashing of a film in the genre of "Steel Magnolias" and "Fried Green Tomatoes."

Not much happens here to hold the eyes in place. The usually dependable Ashley Judd as Ave Maria, seems stuck in a southern bog here, not of her design. She laments being an old maid in a town laden by back biting gossip and that's fine, but her story is absent of any tension or pathos.

Why should we care? Maria is the "straight man" playing off a group of semi kooky (but not kooky enough) characters. There is Jack (Patrick Wilson) a Dudley Do Right character who passively drifts about and doesn't quite no what he wants in a woman. There is Sue (Jane Krakowski) a ditzy blonde who does precious little but laugh and say mean things to Ave, and Iva (Jenna Elfman) another gossipy hen-like lady. Whoopi Goldberg appears as well, cliche in hand as a glib and wisecracking pharmacist.

The main thrust of the drama involving the mystery of Ave's Italian father, combined with a shrewish Aunt Alice (Mary Pat Gleason) takes so long to get out off the ground that one will wish for a tall glass of sweet tea to stay awake. Every character feels a generalized stereotype from the gossipy blondes, to the silent and passive Jack, not to mention Fleeta's snappish remarks.

Granted we are in West Virginia, but must every woman speak in the same sugary cadence and accent? Such unreality curdles my suspension of disbelief.

There is an  unfunny drunken wedding with a bride falling down and french kissing , a mine explosion and some relationship handwringing, all of it so deliberate and obviously calling to so many previous and better, southern-centric films. By the end, with long lost characters arriving and an ensemble moment heavy in tears, it feels more like a rote checklist of relief on cue than a satisfying film.

"Big Stone Gap" has a solid cast, headed by Judd, but its slow, plodding treatment has far too many cliches to retain an interest.

That's all, y'all.

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