Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"What's Wrong with Virginia?": early work by Dustin Lance Black in the heterosexual world seems muddy

The film “Virginia” (2010), also called “What’s Wrong with Virginia?” (or maybe “The Trouble with Virginia”, to paraphrase Hitchcock; maybe the question mark doesn't belong) is not Dustin Lance Black’s best work.  The E-one DVD has a 20-minute featurette where Black looks like a 20-year-old (he was 35 when making the film) and where he and the cast demonstrate their dedication to the concept.  (OK, so does actor Gabriel Mann as Nolan in “Revenge” look almost like a late teen; if you are lean, you look younger.)  Black wanted to prove he was comfortable with 100% heterosexual material, but you wonder about his own attitude toward his world. Say that also about producer Gus Van Sant.
And that idea is to weave a story about some rather unlikeable characters, and even make the likeable teen do some bad things at the end.  In my own screenplays, most of my characters are “good” and major-keyed, as if I didn’t think that glorifying lesser souls meant anything. Maybe that’s a problem.
The setup is a love rectangle.  Near Virginia Beach (although the film is shot near Lake Michigan, with one scene in Atlantic City) a local sheriff Richard Tipton (Ed Harris) decides to run for state senator.  He likes to present himself as a good Mormon and family man (does that make him a Republican?)  Married (Amy Madigan) he has carried on an affair with a schizophrenic single mom Virginia (Jennifer Connelly).  It all breaks lose when her nice teenage son Emmett (new Aussie actor Harrison Gilbertson) dates and marries Tipton’s daughter (Emma Roberts). 
Part of the story involves Virginia’s poverty, her fake pregnancy, her apparent lung cancer (she is coughing up blood while chain smoking – which is why I don’t empathize with her).  At one point, she comes up with a goofy scheme to rob a bank, which fails, though she escapes.  Her son is a nice kid, but gives in to crime himself to protect his mom.  There are also a couple of drag characters (including Toby Jones) involved in the heists. 
There are some other goofy lines.  The two Mormon “elder” missionary boys hide “in the closet” from the gunfire in one scene, and there’s a second funky line about Mormon undergarments.  Earlier there is a line about snow in Virginia Beach, which is pretty uncommon.
The film can be rented on YouTube for $1.99. 

This is an early film by Black, but an earlier important one is “The Journey of Jared Price” (2000), now from Wolfe, with Corey Spears as a kind of role model young gay man on a journey encountering real world dangers and temptations after moving to LA from Georgia. 

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