But: the acting was tremendous throughout, in particular a staggering performance by Amy Adams and a welcome appearance by Scott Wilson, who I don’t see nearly enough of; the movie made a far better attempt than any dozen I can name at portraying the urban/rural culture clash in an honest and meaningful way; the details of the setting and the interaction of the family were extraordinarily well-done; and while the framing device of the story seems a bit contrived, it also leads to a scene with more emotional power and resonance than I’ve seen in a good while onscreen. The things it has to say about familial responsibilities and the pull of one’s roots are well-rendered, though the final message (if there is one) is a tad muddled. (I’d like to think this is deliberate ambiguity or just a bad reading on my part, but I worry that it’s just a lack of clear intent from the writer, who otherwise does a terrific job, especially with the dialogue, which rings true as hell to my ear without being patronizing.)
Scott Wilson has perhaps fewer lines than any of the leads (except perhaps Johnny, who’s all sullen, resentful intensity), but he carries with him much of the emotional burden of the movie, and plays it just right: quiet simplicity, dignity, and a willingness to assume the best about people, carrying around other people’s preconceptions and judgments around like a real weight, not sure how to do the right thing but muddling through it all just the same. Celia Weston, an actress with whom I’m not familiar, plays his wife, resentful of her new daughter-in-law and crazily overprotective of her favorite son, but it’s a strong performance that, if overplayed, could have resulted in an unlikable harridan but comes out as an overburdened woman who’s just trying to hold on to her loved ones and not throw away a lifetime of hard work.
The male lead, I think, comes off worse in reflection than he does on first viewing: while his wife (a well-traveled, sophisticated big-city art dealer) is portrayed as the object of scorn by his southern family, he – well-favored, handsome, successful, beloved by his family and well aware of it – does nothing to prepare her for what she’ll see and hear or how she’ll be received with her continental manners and her measured way of talking. It’s a deeper character than I’d initially reacted to (though the fact unpleasantly remains that she comes off worse on screen to a straight-up reading). And, likewise, her character shows a lot more sympathy and grace and real effort to make good with the family (right up until her fallen-woman moment, which I’m still unable to decide rings true or not) than my initial scan left me with. All of this is problematic, for sure, and it’s a very hard movie to read cogently, but that’s all to the good, I suppose, because it’s a thoughtful movie that I think will bear a close re-watching.
Also, Will Oldham is in it.