MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Big Stone Gap’ is down home cinematic comfort food

There's nothing memorable about this romantic-comedy, but it's sweet enough to crack a few smiles on your face

| October 10, 2015

While I occasionally try to mask or deny it, I’m a southern boy at heart. I don’t have an extreme accent, nor do I partake in many southern traditions, but having been born in Georgia, lived in Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina, with family from Alabama and Tennessee and a sister from Kentucky, it’s hard escaping the American South. Though, the Appalachian region, specifically the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee hold a particularly close spot in my heart, as that’s where my cilldhood family vacations (and today, still) occur, bringing forth some of the best memories of my childhood to that specific region. That’s why I was drawn to see “Big Stone Gap,” even though the film takes place in Virginia, the aesthetic and charm is all the same to me. Playing on the typical “small town with eclectic locals” trope, I was hoping that “Big Stone Gap” would jump past the possibilities for clichés and deliver something a bit more heartfelt.

“Big Stone Gap” doesn’t do that, but you’d be a heartless prude to say that “Big Stone Gap” didn’t bring a few smiles to your face.

Ashley Judd is a criminally underrated actress, one who does consistently great work in projects that never seem to get off the ground commercially. Thank god for the “Divergent” series, for putting her face in something financially marketable, even if it only gets her the lead in a movie as big as this one. Judd plays Ave Maria Mulligan (I’m not kidding, her name is Ave Maria), an unmarried 40-year-old living in Big Stone Gap. Ave Maria owns the town pharmacy and works with Fleeta Mullins, portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg. Again, while contrived, Judd and Goldberg both do great work, reminding me that Goldberg is still a great actress. “Big Stone Gap” also includes a welcome ensemble cast that includes Patrick Wilson, John Benjamin Hickey, Jane Krakowski, Anthony LaPaglia and Jenna Elfman, who, aside from a few inconsistent southern accents, provide good work as well.

Atmosphere is the name of the game in “Big Stone Gap” and it does it very well, really painting the titular town as much of a character than that of any actual character in the film. Director Adriana Trigiani (who also adapted the screenplay from the novel, which she also wrote) does well capturing the aesthetic of rural Appalachia, something that hasn’t really been done since “Cold Mountain” in 2003 … Come to think of it, it might be the first film to take place in rural Appalachia since “Cold Mountain” in 2003.

The screenplay of the film is where things start to go a bit awry. The film is 100 percent predictable from start to finish, favoring familiar comforts and humor than that of any compelling storytelling. “Big Stone Gap” is the film equivalent of if you took a gallon of Bojangles’ sweet tea, evaporated it and then added a cup of sugar to it, it’s that saccharine sweet. For some audiences, this will be a plus amongst the dark stories that pervade mainstream cinemas, to others, this will be flatly irritating. Myself? I found it right in the middle, there were some points in which the positivity of the film was refreshing and other points where I was a tad annoyed at how happy everything is. Still, “Big Stone Gap” isn’t egregious in anything it puts forth, it’s simply just a bit too comfortable where it stands.

If “The Intern” was cinematic comfort food, it was the comfort food from that gentrified neo-soul restaurant in Brooklyn that charges $30 for fried chicken. “Big Stone Gap,” on the other hand, is the down home, hole-in-the-wall, ruritan club type of comfort food. A film that brought a smile to my face in the scenes in which its sickly sweet humor was abound. Unfortunately, the film plays it a bit too close to the chest with a completely predictable storyline and a sometimes too positively chipper look on things. Yet, Judd and Goldberg are expectedly fantastic in their roles, with their charm carrying them through a film made to work off of charm and there’s enough here of it, that it overshadows everything that didn’t quite add up.

3/5

Photo courtesy of Picturehouse

Photo courtesy of Picturehouse

Directed by: Adriana Trigiani
Starring: Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, John Benjamin Hickey, Jane Krakowski, with Anthony LaPaglia and Jenna Elfman.
Runtime: 103 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for brief suggestive material.

Picturehouse presents, an Altar Identity Studios production, “Big Stone Gap”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Julie Dietz says:

    Your review was all over the place. You liked it…you didn’t like it. Unbelievably sweet….come to BSG …. you’ll find it is pretty identical to the story. It is sad that we have entered an age where people have to see violence, death, sex, or catastrophe to be entertained. I very glad that most folks don’t listen to critics…in fact, most of the reviews from critics I follow backwards….if you all don’t like or are middle of the road…I go and typically enjoy. If you all like a movie….I don’t go…I’ve been burned way too many times with films that are “critically acclaimed”. So I say….come on out and watch Big Stone Gap….you can bring your entire family for a family date night…..oh my…..who has EVER heard of FAMILY DATE night…..that’s too sugary sappy sweet!

  2. Denise Caldwell says:

    Julie…I TOTALLY agree, and I’m a little afraid there will be more of the same. Unfortunately, the world is so jaded, unhappy, and negative, most people cannot handle HAPPY, and SWEET, not to mention TRUE! YES! I admit, I grew up, live in, raised a family here….and am TOTALLY in love with every aspect of “Big Stone Gap”. In MY humble opinion…”Lord have MERCY!” we got us one fantastic movie right here!”

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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