I’m tempted to do a one-word review and leave it at that—blech. Or maybe, barf. Adapted by Adriana Trigiani from her own novel, and directed by her, too, Big Stone Gap is dumbest kind of cinematic treacle. Some people might call it “unpretentious” or “sweet” or “well-intentioned”, but those people would be f*cking idiots. This is not a good movie by any measure, and I’m sorry for all the below the line craftspeople who worked on it, because the creatives behind Big Stone Gap sh*t the bed and their talents were wasted. If you really want an unpretentious, sweet romantic movie, you deserve a whole hell of a lot better than Big Stone Gap.
Ashley Judd stars as Ave Maria Mulligan, a self-proclaimed spinster in Big Stone Gap, Virginia in 1978. She’s forty and unmarried, though she has a not-relationship with Theodore (John Benjamin Hickey, Truth), an obviously closeted local drama enthusiast. Theodore’s sexuality and repression thereof is treated as an adorable personality quirk and not a f*cking tragedy worthy of a central narrative in and of itself, but small towns! They’re so cute! That’s a big problem with Big Stone Gap, where real, toxic personalities and situations are treated as the quirky reality of small towns. Everything is reduced to the most toothless, spineless version of the small-town South where all it takes is a well-meaning white woman to set everyone straight. She is, of course, receiving advice herself from a straight-talking black woman.
One of the real horrors of Big Stone Gap is that it features a talented ensemble. Judd is joined by Whoopi Goldberg (dispenser of sassy advice), Patrick Wilson (idealized coal mining hunk, and I want it noted this guy was probably dead from black lung within twenty years), the massively underappreciated and underserved Jasmine Guy (grateful matriarch of the downtrodden black family Ave Maria so graciously saves), Jane Krakowski (town beauty/simpleton literally called “Sweet Sue”), and Jenna Elfman (local whore). Everyone is actually trying but I don’t understand why because the dialogue is terrible and none of their characters extended further than the descriptions I just used for them. This is an incredibly shallow movie.
Trigiani is from the real Big Stone Gap, where the movie was shot on location, and she obviously has fond memories of her home town. This isn’t an especially beautiful movie, but there are some nice panoramas of the Appalachian Mountains, and the narrative and characters are approached with the kind of sappy, dewy love that only comes from blind, unquestioning loyalty to your roots. She has no interest in seeing beneath the salt-of-the-earth façade of Big Stone Gap, and so we’re presented a movie about really shallow, dumb people with really shallow, dumb problems, and a really shallow, dumb ending.
Curious because the movie is so f*cking bad, I looked up Big Stone Gap: The Book and HOLY SH*T is it bad (Sample: “His large hand and squarish fingers are in total control of the paring knife. The motion reminds me of a French movie I saw in Charlottesville once.”). It’s every bit as vacuous as the movie, so I can’t even extend Trigiani the courtesy of assuming she floundered in the filmmaking pool because making a movie is completely different from writing a novel. She just wrote a sh*tty book and then turned it into a sh*tty movie. And then I watched it because I’m a f*cking moron, but at least I can save you from my fate.
Instead of watching Big Stone Gap, just watch the pilot episode of Gilmore Girls and then the pilot of Justified. You’ll get both the rosy view of small-town eccentricity and love, and the more realistic examination of how small towns put people in boxes and make it impossible for them to break out. Everything about Big Stone Gap is dumb and I’m angry just thinking about it.