What’s Wrong with Virginia? on the surface at least, is a black comedy from writer/director Dustin Lance Black. It’s the story of mental illness. It’s the story of the little dark secrets that no one talks about. It’s the story of forbidden love. It’s the story of, well, the Mormon underwear. But, at the end of the day, it’s the story of a son’s unconditional love for his mother. It really is.
The movie opens with a close shot of Ed Harris’ Dick Tipton carrying Jennifer Connelly’s Virginia Nicholaus out the door to the tune of Debbie Reynolds’ “Tammy.” It appears to the viewer that this is set to be a period piece. But, then, the camera pans out and we see that this is nothing of the sort.
But, then, this sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Nothing is what we are expecting. We are not expecting Dick Tipton, the Sheriff-turned-would-be-State-Senator, to be a card-carrying married Mormon who has been praying with Virginia (not his wife) before he engages in some kinky sex with her…although never removing his magic underwear. We are not expecting a boy in missionary clothing to have conversations with NASCAR driver Ward Burton and describe – in intimate detail – the concept of the hanging earlobe. We are not expecting a pregnant woman in a floral dress and a gorilla mask to attempt – poorly – to rob a small-town bank to pay for a wedding in Atlantic city.
Unfortunately, we aren’t given enough back story to be able to answer the title question – What IS wrong with Virginia? But what we do know – from the very first scene – is that there is something most definitely wrong with her. Her son Emmett knows it. Heck, the entire town knows it. Everyone knows it but Virginia, who only wants one thing in life – NORMALCY for her only son, Emmett (played by Harrison Gilbertson). To make this happen, she ignores both her health and the advice of everyone in her life. And Emmett, in turn, wants the same thing for his mother. And THIS is what I truly believe Dustin Lance Black wanted us to take from this film. The unconditional love between mother and son.
Something else I was not expecting from this film were near-flawless performances from an entire ensemble cast. Every actor in this movie brought their A-game to their characters, but it almost goes unnoticed next to the two leads. I have never thought of Jennifer Connelly as being much more than a perfect exterior package, but her portrayal of Virginia makes me change my tune. Connelly is an ACTRESS. And we are most certainly going to be seeing lots more of Harrison Gilbertson, the Australian manboy (who looks like a spitting image of Kurt from Glee) who makes us believe that he’s just a simple boy from the south.