HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Big Stone Gap
HTS Overall Score:73
“Big Stone Gap” is what I would like to call a big slice of southern comfort. Penned from the New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani, who both adapted the novel to a screenplay AND directed the film, it cuts out a warm thick piece of said southern comfort and lays it on nice and thick. The movie is a bit saccharine sweet at times and doesn’t really climax very much at all, but it’s gotten a wide following due to the famous books and it showcases Ashley Judd in a starring role. Something that hasn’t happened for quite some time and is rightly deserved. It’s a pleasing enough film without being overly cloying, but fails to really grasp at something that would leave a lasting impression on the viewers.
The year is 1978 and the place is Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Ave (pronounced like Ave Maria, played by Ashley Judd) has lived in Big Stone Gap her entire life and now she’s a self-proclaimed spinster. Living with her mother, Ave runs the local pharmacy and also directs the town play, which is put on every year for the last half a century. Things change a bit for Ave when her mother passes away, leaving her to reevaluate her priorities in life. Not only that, she finds out through a post hummus letter that the man she thought was her father, WASN’T. Her real father is alive and well today, living in Italy where her mother came from.
Ave’s life is complicated by the attentions of two men. The first comes in the form of Theodore (John Benjamin Hickey), a high maintenance actor in their beloved town play who is just about as annoying as he is good. The second comes in the form of childhood friend, Jack (Patrick Wilson), who is all tied up with the conniving (and slightly stupid) Sweet Sue (Jane Krakowski), but very obviously has some inclinations for Ave. As if Ave’s life isn’t complicated enough, the town is preparing for a visit from Senator John Warner and his famous wife, Elizabeth Taylor. With only her friend Fleeta (Whoopi Goldberg) to lean on, Ave has to deal with enough personal crisis to fell just about anyone.
The real pull for the movie comes in the form of the personal interactions between the townsfolk. We have the nympho Iva Lou as Ave’s girlfriend (Jenna Elfman, who’s as adorable as she was back in the “Dharma and Greg” days), a soft spoken and depressed black and white mixed girl named Pearl (Erika Coleman) who is picked on for her poor upbringing. Soft spoken and fatherly Lawyer Spec (Anthony Lapaglia) and a whole slew of southern fried busy bodies, neighbors, friends and everyone in between. If it weren’t for the relationships in the film I fear the movie would have stumbled more than it already did. The main issue that I had with Adriana Trigiani’s adaptation of her well-loved book is the fact that it just coasts along without any uphill climb. There is no climax or ascent up the plot line ladder, and instead the film stays at the same plane the entire runt time. Whether that be good or bad.
There are some decent twists and turns built into the plot of “Big Stone Gap”, mainly dealing with Ave and her new found realization that she has relatives across the sea, but also involving the townsfolk and their burgeoning excitement at the arrival of Elizabeth Taylor (there’s actually some rather funny moments with the back woods town folk getting up in furor over what to make for her and what to do at her arrival). However, as much fun as that is, the lack of any proper culmination tends to leave the film feeling a bit flat at times. The finding of her father near the very end and the resulting liaison we all saw coming is a bit overly saccharine and could count as the culmination, but I honestly feel the book to film adaptation lost a little bin in the translation.
Rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=63994[/img]The 1.85:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray has a nice homey, warm glow to the filming style. Adding in purples, reds, blues, and greens mixed with the golden rays of sunshine and we have a glowing film (almost literally sometimes). There is some inherent softness to the country kitchen looking film, especially in longer shots, but overall clarity and detail is solid. I noticed plenty of detailing on the stitching and clothing of Jack and Ave, while sometimes face look a bit softened by the camera work, although there doesn’t appear to be any digital smoothing added to the film during the encode. Blacks are deep and inky enough, although some crush appears at times. A solid transfer that looks pleasing and very warm and inviting to the eye.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=64002[/img]The singular 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is a naturally front heavy experience that mainly deals with vocals and the few ambient sound effects that trickle into the rear speakers. The front sound stage is more than capable, giving a nice sense of country feeling as the crickets chirp and the hustle and bustle of a small town chatters on around the listener. The countryside has more than enough background noise to keep the surrounds decently employed, but there is nothing that would give the track an awe inspiring feel in that regards. LFE is clean but subdued, only really making itself known during the explosion at the mine and a few places where Jack’s truck has a nice low end hum to end. A solid track it does exactly what is required of it by the fairly simplistic and contained sound design.
• Virginia Film Festival Q&A with Cast
• Cast & Crew Interviews
• Hollywood Celebrates Big Stone Gap
• On Virginia
• Virginia Film Festival Panel
“Big Stone Gap” was a hugely popular series by the director/writer/author of the movie, and certainly has a lot of down home love woven into the seams. Complete with jealousy, fights, love, and the wonderfully warm role that Ashley Judd plays (giving off one of the best roles that I’ve seen the aging actress in in years). Patrick Wilson is always charming and Jenna Elfman is a draw that will make me watch ANYTHING, but the lack of imagination and the flat planed storytelling leaves me with the feeling that leaving it as a book might have been the best option. It’s certainly entertaining at times, and rather decent for a book to film adaptation, but it leaves me with the recommendation of a rental nonetheless.
Starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Wilson, Ashley Judd
Directed by: Adriana Trigiani
Written by: Adriana Trigiani
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 103 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: February 2nd 2016
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