There’s a scene in Virginia where Jennifer Connelly playfully gets whipped and spanked in purple underwear. So it has that going for it. That’s not indicative of what the movie is about but it is indicative of the kind of seemingly random element that makes perfect sense in this story.
Written and directed by Dustin Lance Black, Virginia stars Jennifer Connelly as Virginia, a schizophrenic mother in a Mormon community. Virginia is practicing BDSM with Sheriff Tipton (Ed Harris), right after they pray before frolicking in bed. Virginia’s son Emmett (Harrison Gilbertson) is interested in Tipton’s daughter Jessie (Emma Roberts), but since she’s Mormon she won’t even kiss unless she’s married.
Given that Black is the writer of Milk and created a play about Prop 8, you can imagine he has an opinion about Mormons (who came to California to spread misinformation and succeeded in getting a ban on gay marriage approved in election). The film isn’t a scathing attack, nor is it a full on exploration of Mormons. That’s sort of where it starts and it gets weirder, independent of religion.
Early on though, it seems like the film is sensitive about characters exploring this culture and the conversations they must have trying to figure out relationships. It’s not ridiculing or condescending at all. In addition to the young relationship, Virginia has a physical medical condition for which she refuses treatment, claiming God will cure her. For a religious gal, Virginia sure drops F-bombs a lot. She never takes the Lord’s name in vain though. It makes her spunky I guess.
Now here’s where it gets quirky. Virginia fakes a pregnancy, and stuffs her stockings in lieu of a medically accurate prosthetic tummy. Toby Jones plays the local cross dresser Max. Virginia botches a bank robbery wearing a gorilla mask, and somehow frames Max and a townie who’s so overweight there’s no way he could be mistaken for Jennifer Connelly no matter how much she stuffed her dress.
These sorts of tangents make Virginia more interesting than your usual small town drama, and they make sense in the story. I’m not going to say it's the greatest drama of the year, but it’s certainly compelling.
It’s so nice to see Connelly in a meaty role. The crying and freaking out parts are the showy elements that you expect in an unstable characterization, but in between those moments she shows the soulful performer we love.
The film can be dark but it has a light touch. The music, the colors and the actors keep it breezy no matter what issues they’re dealing with. That makes the material a lot more palatable too.
Virginia may be for a limited audience, either one desperate for any kind of unusual story or maybe a fan of the actors involved. I feel like maybe I’m even being too harsh on it just because I have to have some critical evaluation. Black’s script makes the characters and situations flow honestly so it’s an engaging film. I’ll stick with my instincts though of a mild positive.