I WAS GREETED AT THE DOOR by 2 overly excited dogs. They were sisters who my friends adopted when they were puppies. Being familiar with me, they were happy to see me because they knew I was the one who gave them body massages; well, at least that is what I hoped they thought. Whenever I would tell the two of them it was time for a doggie massage, the chocolate colored dog would lie down on her side, in preparation for her massage; the vanilla colored dog remained standing with this quizzical look on her face as she continued to watch me. I would have to gently hold her as I brought her down onto her side and even then, she would try to get back up. It was only when I started rubbing her side that she would calm down and relax, allowing me to continue my ministrations. The other dog did nothing but wait there for me to massage her. It was quite comical. This was not the only difference between the sisters. It was easy to fake out the vanilla colored sister. I could pretend to throw one of their toys across the room and the vanilla sister would run down the length of the room looking for the toy. The other dog was too smart and would stay in place with this look of anticipation on her face, as if telling me to throw the toy already. Two dogs from the same litter, yet so different. I REALLY WAS NOT SURPRISED BY one dog being smarter than the other. The same type of thing has happened in human families, I have noticed. I knew two brothers who had 4 years difference between their ages. The younger brother was the smarter one who got good grades and achievement awards. The older brother’s school grades were a mishmash of passing and failing grades. He also got in trouble a lot. Now you would think 2 boys being raised in the same house under the same conditions would be more similar, but it was not the case. I have always been curious about this disparity between family members. There is this family I know where the parents only had a high school education. Their focus was staying employed; they did not read anything or try to learn something new. Their only son received zero encouragement from them since his aspirations for higher education were a foreign concept. I do not know whether it was despite or because of his parents, but early on he displayed high intelligence which was quickly noted by his teachers. Where his parents could barely write a clear sentence, he became the editor of his elementary school’s newspaper, besides being a winner in state driven English contests. This type of dynamic is something I find so fascinating, which is why I was intrigued with this dramatic film. WHILE ATTEMPTING TO GET AN INTERVIEW lined up, Yale law student J.D. Vance, played by Gabriel Basso (Super 8, The Kings of Summer), found himself being pulled into his Appalachian family’s drama back home in Ohio. With Amy Adams (Arrival, Big Eyes) as Bev, Glenn Close (The Wife, Alfred Nobbs) as Mamaw, Haley Bennett (Music and Lyrics, The Girl on the Train) as Lindsay and Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Immortals) as Usha; this movie based on a true story was all about the acting. I thought the cast was outstanding and felt Glenn could get nominated for her role. The story is surprising I grant you; however, I thought the script was not as strong as it needed to be to support the story. There was an element of predictability and at times I felt there was too much melodrama inserted into the scenes; I would have preferred learning more about each character on a deeper level. Despite these misgivings, my interest did not waiver as I observed the dynamics in this generational family story.
2 ½ stars
As far as I can remember I always had an uneasy feeling about staying in a small town. Yes, I grew up in a large city with all the negatives and positives that go with city living; but there is something about small towns that makes me feel too exposed. Maybe it is due to having been singled out for the wrong reasons when I was younger, but as an adult I tend to be a guarded, private individual. Now the funny thing is I have no problem traveling through a small town, stopping to experience some of their local culture is fine. Alright, by local culture I mean their food establishments. I remember the time I was passing through this tiny town in North Dakota and found a small diner for lunch. It was a hoot sitting in my cracked, red vinyl, wooden booth as I observed various townsfolk coming in to chat with the employees over a cup of coffee. The food was homemade and plentiful; you know you never can go wrong with hand cut french fries. Of course I had to walk over to the rotating dessert carousel to decide which baked item was calling out to me. After lunch I drove around and enjoyed looking at the rugged western style charm of the streets and buildings as I let the earlier conversations of the diner ruminate in my head. It seemed as if everyone knew everyone else’s business as I recalled hearing about the shoemaker’s daughter who was out too late and some neighbor who didn’t pick up after her dog. It may be cute to hear or maybe even stereotypical to a city person, but I prefer to have a lower profile among my neighbors. As I watched this comedic romance I could not picture myself living in that small Virginian town. COMFORTABLE with the life she was living Ave Marie Mulligan, played by Ashley Judd (Divergent franchise, Double Jeopardy), was not prepared for the family secret that was soon to be revealed to her. One of the reasons why I traveled a ways to see this film was the cast. Along with Ashley there was Patrick Wilson (Insidious franchise, Watchmen) as Jack MacChesney, Jane Krakowski (Alfie, 30 Rock-TV) as Sweet Sue Tinsley and Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost, For Colored Girls) as Fleeta Mullins. I still do not understand how the film studio was able to get such a well known cast because this movie played more like a high school theater sketch. There was nothing amusing in the script, even though I was able to see the writer was trying to reproduce a southern goth dramatic vibe. If that was the case there needed to be more drama and outrageousness. I enjoyed watching Ashley but a majority of the scenes were sappy and predicable. With poor pacing and silly dialog, this film did not win me over to the charms of a small town.
1 3/4 stars