The Good: Engaging story progression
The Bad: Universally unlikable characters, Better casting than acting, Mediocre direction, Utterly oppressive mood.
The Basics: After enduring it, I have absolutely no idea what the appeal of Virginia is.
One of the serious issues with going into a film blind is that one has absolutely no idea what they will get. The danger is that one ends up sitting through a movie that, properly prepared, they never would have subjected themselves to. Perhaps the very best thing that my review of Virginia can do is prevent anyone who reads the review from putting themselves through the experience of watching this particular movie.
I picked up Virginia because I enjoy the works of Emma Roberts and Jennifer Connelly can usually be counted on for an amazing performance, too. All I knew about the film before it began was that those two actresses were in this indie film and I had heard, nor seen, anything about it. Perhaps the saving grace of this psychologically horrific film is that opens with an engaging enough sense of mystery before getting overcome with miserable characters, gunplay, incest, and bloody spit from cancer-ridden lungs.
One year before Virginia, a disturbed woman who hears voices, shoots up the local sheriff’s home, Virginia’s son Emmett begins a personal quest to find out who is real father is. Having figured out that Virginia has had a long affair with Sheriff Tipton, Emmett begins spending a lot of time with Tipton’s daughter, Jessie. Jessie is an idealistic young Mormon and Emmett is still figuring his life out, which is complicated by his mother getting a tumor in her lung. Virginia comes to believe she is pregnant with Richard’s child as Richard runs for State Senate.
When Emmett puts together that he is Tipton’s biological son, Richard cuts Jessie off from seeing him. Shortly thereafter, Tipton cuts off the hush money his campaign was paying Virginia and Virginia displays more signs of his schizophrenia. Virginia begins telling everyone in town that she is having Tipton’s baby and Emmett resolves to marry his half-sister. Faking a pregnancy and attempting to rob a bank, Virginia’s condition gets worse and worse as Richard’s bid for office becomes increasingly more tenuous based on her behaviors.
I love movies that expose the hypocrisy of characters who are supposed to be faith-driven as much as anyone, but Virginia is unrelenting. Richard keeps Virginia as his mistress and the process of his wife slowly learning the truth is agonizing. The moment Emmett realizes he is Richard’s son and continues pursuing Jessie, the movie becomes beyond creepy. Virginia is like Tideland (reviewed here!) without the whimsy and charm. There is a caper-like quality to the progression of Virginia, but it is a humorless caper and there is no real catharsis from the film.
Virginia moves too slowly back to the film’s beginning and by the time it gets there, it is virtually impossible to care about that. Virginia is not a likable character and while her mental illness goes a distance to explaining her actions, he is not at all enjoyable to watch as she progresses through her unfortunate madness.
On the acting front, Virginia is, by far, a by-product of good casting over great performing. Writer and director Dustin Lance Black no doubt saw Jennifer Connelly in either House Of Sand And Fog (reviewed here!) or Requiem For A Dream (reviewed here!), or both, when he cast her as Virginia. Her performance in this is entirely derivative of those roles. Emma Roberts is relegated to a distant supporting role (Jessie is almost entirely absent in the last act) and Amy Madigan essentially replays her part from Carnivale (reviewed here!) as the sheriff’s long-suffering wife.
Ed Harris is fine as Tipton and Harrison Gilbertson is all right as Emmett, though it seems inconceivable that he would be as cool as he is when Tipton draws his weapon on him in a public bathroom. I’m sure there are more sophisticated analyses of Virginia, but I do not want to devote the time or attention to writing them; that is how utterly unpleasant this movie was.
For other works with utterly miserable characters or faith-guided protagonists who get in over their heads, please check out my reviews of:
An American Crime
For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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