PLOT: Virginia (Jennifer Connelly) is an unstable woman, caught in a decades-long affair with the local sheriff (Ed Harris)- a hardcore Mormon, which gets complicated once her sixteen-year-old son (Harrison Gilbertston) falls for the sheriff’s daughter (Emma Roberts).
REVIEW: VIRGINIA is a film that’s sat on the shelf for a while, having initially played the Toronto Film Festival, back in 2010- where it was met with noxious reviews. Originally titled WHAT’S WRONG WITH VIRGINIA, it was the directorial debut of screenwriting wunderkind Dustin Lance Black, who won a much-deserved Oscar a few years ago for MILK. While he’s no doubt a fine writer, as a director he’s got a lot to learn, as VIRGINIA- despite going under the knife in the eighteen months since it played TIFF, is an absolute, God-awful mess.
Black seems to be going for a Todd Haynes style vibe here, with VIRGINIA’s purposely melodramatic vibe bringing to mind his FAR FROM HEAVEN, but in every way he succeeded with that film, Black fails here. Other than a striking performance by Jennifer Connelly as the possibly schizophrenic, child-like Virginia, there’s absolutely nothing here to warrant a viewing.
Other than Haynes, Black tries to incorporate a little David Lynch style- black humor into the film, but it clashes badly with the rest of the movie- and makes it seem even more schizophrenic than the main character. Maybe that was Black’s intent, but he’s nowhere near a skilled enough director to pull that off.
Too bad though, as Connelly’s performance is good enough that had the film been better- she would have certainly gotten a lot of critical attention. In fact, pretty much all the actors are effective here, from Toby Jones as the town’s closeted gay carnival-owner, to a standout Amy Madigan as the sheriff’s wife (she’s married to Harris in real-life too). Even young Harrison Gilbertson is appealing, but each and every one of them is let down by the Black’s double-threat scripting and directing. Harris though seems to be struggling with his devoutly religious- but also predatory role, and it’s one of the rare occasions where I had a hard time accepting him in a part.
Surely, this is the type of movie that any theater that’s crazy enough to schedule it, will certainly see dozens upon dozens of walkouts, as it’s unwatchable. Still, I’d hesitate to say VIRGINIA is the beginning and end of Black’s career behind the camera, as it might just be that he bit off (way) more than he could chew with this misguided attempt at southern gothic. It’s a train wreck, and I doubt even a polished director like Gus Van Sant could have polished this turd.