Synopsis: In a small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, self-proclaimed spinster Ave Maria Mulligan finds her life shaken up and forever changed after learning a long-buried family secret.
Release Date: October 9, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Comedy, Romance
Set in 1978 in the coal mining town in Virginia that gives the film its name, Big Stone Gap stars Ashley Judd (Divergent) as Ave Maria Mulligan, a thirty-something-year-old woman who runs the town’s pharmacy by day and directs the local theater by night. A combination of events – her discovery of a family secret, a marriage proposal from her childhood friend Jack MacChesney (The Conjuring‘s Patrick Wilson), and the impending arrival of movie star Elizabeth Taylor to their little burg – turns Ave’s life upside down, forcing her to make decisions that will affect her and everyone around her for a very long time.
Big Stone Gap was written and directed by Adriana Trigiani (“The Cosby Show”) and, while it’s not exactly an autobiographical story, the screenplay is an accurate portrayal of Trigiani’s life growing up in the titular town, and that’s the problem. It seems to be too accurate of a portrayal of life in the little Appalachian mining town; in a word, it’s a bit boring. There’s no conflict in the story, and the only drama boils down to whether or not Ave and Jack Mac are going to end up together or not. It’s a slice-of-life picture, but the slice that is carved off is bland and tasteless.
Seeing a very personal project such as Big Stone Gap come to fruition has got to be a very rewarding experience for Adriana Trigiani, and she should be respected for the film that she has made. The film was shot on location, local actors were cast in minor and supporting roles, and the production painstakingly labored over the tiniest of details in order to give the film an authentic look and feel. And that part works. It’s the story that lets everything else down. Big Stone Gap will find an audience with some, mostly people who pine for the charming simplicity of small town living, but everyone else will probably find it dull and tedious.
In addition to Ashley Judd and Patrick Wilson, there are a slew of other big names and familiar faces in Big Stone Gap. Jenna Elfman (“Dharma & Greg”), Jane Krakowski (“30 Rock”), Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost, The Color Purple), Chris Sarandon (Fright Night, The Princess Bride), John Benjamin Hickey (Flags of our Fathers), and Jasmine Guy (“A Different World”) all appear in typical yet decent roles. Everyone is likeable enough and does a good job, but there’s not much to the roles; there’s no challenge to the characters because there’s no conflict in the movie. So, while the acting is good, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be; the movie doesn’t really provide much of a challenge to any of the talented cast members in the first place. Big Stone Gap has a pleasant – albeit safe – ensemble that services the movie, but doesn’t do a whole lot to break new ground. There won’t be any Oscars in the cast’s future (at least not for Big Stone Gap), but there won’t be any Razzies, either (again, at least not for Big Stone Gap).
The music in Big Stone Gap is a lot of fun. The soundtrack is made up of either period songs from the seventies or modern reworkings that try to sound like period songs from the seventies, and it’s all pretty authentic. Tracks from regional artists such as If Birds Could Fly, Papa Joe Smiddy, and Ralph Stanley are included, and they all sound great. Roseanne Cash has two songs on the soundtrack, the classic “Seven Year Ache” and a new arrangement of “Barbara Allen,” and keeping with the familial theme of the movie’s production, her husband/musical partner John Leventhal contributes most of the incidental music, which captures the country/bluegrass sound of both the location and the era perfectly. Also following the personal connection theme, Adriana Trigiani’s brother, Michael, comes up with several arrangements of traditional and original songs for the film as well. This whole mish-mash of music may seem like it would be a bit unfocused, but the soundtrack is actually the high point of Big Stone Gap.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Adriana Trigiani
- Producer(s): J.E. CraigDonna GigliottiJames Spies
- Screenwriter(s): Adriana Trigiani
- Cast: Ashley Judd (Ave Maria Mulligan)Patrick Wilson (Jack MacChesney)Jenna Elfman (Iva Lou Wade) Jane Krakowski (Sweet Sue Tinsley)Chris Sarandon (Mario Barbari)Whoopi Goldberg (Fleeta Mullins)Anthony LaPaglia (Spec Broadwater)Erika Coleman (Pearl Grimes)Jasmine Guy (Leah Grimes)John Benjamin Hickey (Theodore Tipton)Judith Ivey (Nan MacChesney)James Hampton (Reverend Manning)
- Editor(s): Christopher Passig
- Cinematographer: Reynaldo Villalobos
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Debra McGuire
- Casting Director(s): Erica ArvoldHenry Russell BergsteinAnne N. Chapman
- Music Score: John Leventhal
- Music Performed By: Michael Trigiani
- Country Of Origin: USA