DVD Review - Big Stone Gap

Adriana Trigiani is a writer and producer who worked on The Cosby Show and A Different World. She's probably best known for writing a series of novels about her hometown of Big Stone Gap, Virginia. This movie is an adaptation of those books, which begin and center on a 40-year-old woman in 1978 who is notably single and who runs her family's pharmacy. A recent tragedy forces the woman to re-examine her life. She considers settling down with a handsome, coal miner while also directing a play and musical in the town's makeshift amphitheater.

Ashley Judd (Double Jeopardy and Dolphin Tale) stars as Ave Maria Mulligan, the aforementioned 40-year-old. She will occasionally deliver prescriptions to the elderly in her jeep. One regular run is to the MacChesney house, to hand over the drugs for Mrs. MacChesney. She doesn't say it, but clearly she has a flirtation with Mrs. MacChesney's son, Jack MacChesney, played by Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring and Watchmen). He's sexy, even in his scruffy, red pajamas. She hires him to play guitar in her play, which makes him even sexier.

However, he works mainly as a coal miner. Yet, it's strange because Trigiani who directs this movie shows Jack with a pick-ax doing surface mining. Yes, this movie takes place nearly 40 years in the past, but it seems as if, even in the late 70's, there would have been better and bigger technology, drills and excavators. Depicting Jack with an ax doing mining by hand almost makes it too old-world.

Yet, the old-world nature seems purposeful because while Jack is attractive, he's supposed to represent what Ave Maria doesn't want, or at least the life she doesn't want. Being a coal miner's wife, settling down and possibly having children isn't what she wants, even at age 40. She just wants to have fun, hang out with Jack, have sex with him and not tie any knots.

When Jack pushes that traditional, coal-mining life on her, she rejects it and considers letting it all go and even leaving town. For various reasons, she thinks maybe she'll escape to Italy. She even takes significant steps toward that escape. Yet, her plan to do so is somewhat dashed. She gets a happy ending, but I didn't know what it means for her character who didn't want the traditional life.

Trigiani has assembled a really great cast. I'm not sure each person is all-that well used. Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost and Sister Act) plays Fleeta, a sassy employee at the pharmacy. Besides being a wise sage or throwing shade here and there, I don't feel like I got a sense of whom Fleeta was, if she had any family or any kind of life outside the pharmacy and what was happening to Ave Maria. When Ave Maria thinks about selling the pharmacy, Fleeta isn't even a consideration. She's barely even an after-thought.

Emmy-nominee John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C and The Good Wife) plays Theodore Tipton, an actor and the star of Ave Maria's play. He's a bit of a diva. He doesn't seem like he's into the traditional, coal-mining life either. He seemingly has sex with Ave Maria, but the morning after is incredibly awkward, almost as if the two had no sexual chemistry. This is non-surprising given that Hickey in real-life is gay. It seems like the movie might be hinting that his character is as well, but it's never addressed, so it's only a supposition. Obviously, being set in the 70's in a small, Virginia town probably would have prevented someone like Theodore from coming out, but if Trigiani's film had been bolder, they would have tackled it.

Both Anthony LaPaglia and Jane Krakowski are wasted. Both are terrific, but both aren't given much to do. More people talk about Krakowski's Sweet Sue that Krakowski herself is given lines of dialogue. I also couldn't figure out what exactly LaPaglia's Spec had for a job. Spec seemed like a lawyer or something, yet he seemed to have a closer relationship to Ave Maria but it's never made clear.

There's a plot involving Ave Maria having to battle against relatives, namely Aunt Alice, for control of the pharmacy and even ownership of her parents' house. This plot comes almost out of nowhere. There isn't enough set-up for it. It's basically dropped in the third act and feels rushed, so there isn't enough time to get emotionally invested.

Emmy-nominee Jenna Elfman (Dharma &Greg) plays Iva Lou Wade, the best friend of Ave Maria. She gets a lot to do. She has a lot of fun scenes. She's a bright spot in the film. I definitely wanted to see more of her.

Patrick Wilson is of course a big draw. He's used effectively, but more could have been done with him. I didn't quite buy him as a coal-miner, but only because we don't get enough of him doing it. Regardless, Wilson is magnetic and gorgeous. He has been since his Tony-nominated performance in The Full Monty on Broadway, and he continues to be to this day. The whole film is watchable for his dynamic with Judd.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG - 13 for brief suggestive material.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.


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