When Dustin Lance Black won his Academy Award® for writing Gus Van Sant’s Milk, he noted that he grew up in a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas. The distance between that world and the sensibility from which he now writes may look vast, but a good storyteller can always bridge opposites. What’s Wrong With Virginia marks the directorial debut of this gifted writer, synthesizing small town Christian America with the sexual undercurrents that often lay buried there, all filtered through an acutely cinematic vision.
Jennifer Connelly is Virginia. Delicate and troubled, she has survived in her tourist town, despite hints of mental illness, thanks to her beauty and her wonderfully irrational optimism. An affair with Sheriff Tipton (Ed Harris) has dragged on for years with no resolution, but Virginia lives in hope. She’s been willing to indulge both the sheriff’s bedroom prayer-sessions and his secret taste for fetish sex, but when he announces his plan to run for the state senate, their affair runs the risk of becoming a political liability.
Virginia’s teenaged son Emmett (Harrison Gilbertson) isn’t faring as well as his mother. Perpetually embarrassed by her, he now seeks contact with the father he never knew. Using genetics lessons half-learned in science class, he begins searching the town for his paternal match. Virginia takes a similar opportunity to reinvent her reality. Rejecting a medical diagnosis she doesn’t like, she decides instead that she is pregnant. When her body fails to cooperate, she stuffs pantyhose to create a bulge and announces to everyone who will listen, “I’m pregnant with Sheriff Tipton’s baby.”
Black lets the strangeness unfold without judgment. Drawing on shades of David Lynch and Todd Haynes (and Douglas Sirk before him), he descends into the world of his characters on their lyrical, sometimes lurid terms. The effect is intoxicating. –TIFF.net
Over the course of 10 years — from the early 2000s through the tail end of that decade — Dustin Lance Black meteorically evolved into one of the most unique and critically acclaimed of all Hollywood screenwriters. The product of a conservative Mormon household in California, Black moved with his family to Salinas during his teens and almost instantly gravitated to the theater arts, with stints as an actor, crewmember, and directorial apprentice. Following high school, Black attended UCLA’s school of theater, film, and television, graduating with honors in 1996.
During his early post-collegiate years, Black primarily worked as an art director on various projects, then segued into helming music videos and commercials. He remained aware of his own homosexuality from an early age, and thus felt a strong desire to explore gay issues (particularly gay rights) dramatically through his artistic craftsmanship. Black moved into writing and directing in 2000 helming and scripting the gentle… read more