Dustin Lance Black won the Oscar for the screenplay to "Milk" and also penned the screenplay for the Clint Eastwood-directed "J Edgar." "Virginia" obviously represents a labor of love for him, directing and writing. It is a film difficult to niche, which will make it difficult for audiences trained to categorize films as "comedy," "romance" or "drama." There are no super heroes here, albeit there is a bit of a ghostly aspect to the film. For me, this film worked completely!
I particularly love its ending. Jennifer Connelly plays the main character Virginia. Her husband walked out on the family and leaves her depressed with a possible mental condition. Virginia does things in an offbeat and original way. Her understanding of issues like religion and social propriety are limited. At the end of the film, we find her love for her son Emmett, well played by Harrison Gilbertson, to be perfect. She is willing to sacrifice herself completely for him. It's an act of love, imperfect but Christ-like in its sacrifice. As an actress, Jennifer Connelly takes these hairpin twists and turns of character like a race car driver scrambling up a mountain road.
The scenes with Mormon missionaries who come sometime after the Baptists are so pathetic. Virginia understands so little of the religions, willing to try them on like new clothes as long as they promise salvation in the afterlife. At the end, when Virginia has to literally take the missionary's clothes to disguise Emmett so he can get away, the film bounces to the comic before its big bang ending.
Ed Harris does a great job as small-town politician Richard Tipton who likewise tries to keep up appearances as a loving family man with traditional values, while waiting to break away and have Virginia handcuff him to her bed. The hypocrisy is the stuff of which political headlines are all too frequently made.
I loved the DVD extras where producer/actress Yeardley Smith comments on the film. In "Virginia," she plays social worker Mrs. Whitaker who gets more than a cold shoulder from Virginia. Known as the voice of Lisa on "The Simpsons," she talks about how she probably wouldn't have been considered for the role if she hadn't also served as a producer.
"Virginia" is not going to be every audience's cup of tea. But it deals with characters that feel real, imperfect people. Some of them try to do their best, some of them try to look like they're doing their best, and some of them wouldn't know "best" if it bit them. It's a great quirky film, well worth watching for the adventurous viewer. Enjoy!