Friday, September 17, 2010


Dustin Lance Black
Something's definitely wrong with Virginia.  Milk Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black makes his Directorial debut in What's Wrong With Virginia and I'm going to be as easy on it as I can after seeing a screening of it earlier today at TIFF.

The film revolves around a mentally unstable woman named Virginia (Jennifer Connelly) involved with a married man many years her senior, Dick (Ed Harris).  Dick has political aspirations as the town's Sherriff, but after Virginia manages to convince him that she is pregnant with his baby, he decides to end the affair in fear of derailing his bid.  Meanwhile, Virginia's teenaged son Emmett (Harrison Gilbertson) resents Dick but also at the same time is romantically involved with a girl named Jesse (Emma Roberts) who could well be his biological half-sister, seeing that Virginia devoted herself only to one man for 20 years.

Where What's Wrong with Virginia falls short is a lack of a character development and a clear focus.  I failed to find one character I found engaging, which is odd. Virginia of course is at times comedic in her instability (i.e. running into a bank with a gorilla mask, gun and a dress) and endearing in her fragility, but one finds it difficult to empathize with her as we never get the opportunity to know her or her back story.  The story line of forbidden love involving Emmett and Jesse lacks any heart or tension, as is the case with Dick and Virginia; we never tap into their psyches nor do we understand what draws them to one another.

In today's Q&A with Black, we learned that this story v. much draws upon his childhood and his father's abandonment.  Black's mother had Polio also, meaning that he had to care for her for much of his youth and there are many traces of this in the story's Mother and Son versus Father Figure component.  And although the intentions are there something of a heartfelt story, the failure occurs in its execution here as the brilliant cast members never really hit their best stride, which is a pity.  

I have nothing but respect for Black, but cannot deny that this film was a bit of a mess. What's Wrong with Virginia has no set release date yet.  Grade: C-

(Photo credit: Mr. Will-W.)

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