When we hold children, we can’t picture a world without them. We find it impossible to imagine how we could move forward if something tragic would happen to children we love.
We know, when we first see Holly Hunter in the new film Strange Weather, that she carries severe pain. We observe, in the intense heat of a Georgia summer, how she violates town rules to restrict water usage so she can water her plants and nourish her dog. We consider, as she handles routine work at a local college, what she could accomplish if she could go back to school. But pain limits her dreams. And, in the quiet of her heart, she deeply misses the son she lost and yearns to learn what happened the night he took his life.
Writer/director Katherine Dieckmann spent five bringing getting this compelling story of one woman’s search for truth to the screen. The determination shows. From its opening moments, we know this is a film filled with intention. Dieckmann wants to inspire her audience to look inside themselves for moments of truth they may hide. She challenges viewers to consider the times they dismiss, the relationships they undermine. And she delivers a piercing look at how we grieve, get in our own way to heal, and hope for better tomorrows.
Dieckmann frames her story in a road trip, a standard narrative for many a movie, from Thelma and Louise to Rain Man. By using such a familiar convention she risks diluting the originality of her story. As Hunter leaves her small town in Georgia, to confront the man who may hold the truth about her son, we begin to see all the moments we expect in road pictures. She drives the backroads, listens to country music, and muses with her best friend, played by Carrie Coon. They stop at service stations filled with roadside character, dine at small town cafes brimming with local charm, and sleep in motels framed by exterior doors. And they conveniently locate each person they seek within the film’s 92-minute running time.
In lesser hands, the movie could have run off this over-traveled road. But Strange Weather is made with creative care. Despite the routine of the narrative, Dieckmann injects new layers and fresh challenges into each situation, from the ways Hunter and Coon ease their way in and out of revealing conversations to an insightful visit with an old friend played by the late Glenne Headley in a rich cameo. Because the filmmaker seems to know that others may have traveled this lady’s road to self-awareness, she carefully observes each stop on the way to keep the journey as fresh as possible.
Hunter is in fine form. This fascinating actress, limited throughout her career by the sounds of her Georgia accent, uses every shred of that background to create a woman who fears what she may learn but hungers for what she doesn’t know. Hunter communicates as thoroughly with her eyes as with her voice, with her hands as with her dialogue. Physically, the performance astonishes, with the way she carries herself, shifts her body positions, reacts to the nerves a conversation may strike. In a rich collection of performances over many years, Strange Weather reminds us how breathless we can be when Hunter connects on screen.
It’s not easy for an independent film with a message to find an audience. Like so many others, Strange Weather may struggle. Finding this film is worth the effort. Its search for truth reminds all of us what matters as we start each day.
Nutritional Value: Strange Weather
Content: High. This look at a mother’s search for truth about her son’s death reveals how people can confront the consequences of their choices.
Entertainment: High. Thanks to a remarkable cast, and an insightful script, the film says a lot about what it takes to authentically live.
Message: High. Because the film makes us think as it entertains, we are left with a clear view of what it takes to live with truth instead of illusion.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to introduce our older children to the issues of decisions and consequences is a welcome visit to the movies.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older children, talk about the realities of embracing truth as we make choices.
Strange Weather is rated R for “a scene of sexuality.” Four Popcorn Buckets. The film runs 92 minutes. It is available on demand and online as well as selected theaters in New York City. Read more about films about family road trips in the Reel Dad, below.
Lily Tomlin travels a meaningful road trip
by Mark Schumann
The Reel Dad
Like Holly Hunter in Strange Weather, Lily Tomlin heads out on her own search for family truth in Grandma, a delightful movie from 2015 that should have brought this legendary actress an Oscar nomination.
At first glance, the story seems simple. A woman starts her day ending a relationship. Just as she begins to sort things out, her granddaughter rings the doorbell. She’s having a tough day, too. The young woman reveals she is having a baby and plans to terminate the pregnancy that afternoon. She needs money for the procedure. But grandma is short on cash after paying off debts and turning her credit cards into a wind chime. So the two begin a day chasing memories, resolving relationships and confronting choices in search of money and closure.
Such a setup leads to an entertaining look at the dynamics of cross-generational relationships. But that’s not all that Grandma is about. In just 79 minutes this lovely film delivers a character study of epic proportions as writer/director Paul Weitz explores a fascinating woman who views the final chapters of her life with clarity as she confronts her disappointments. In each situation the ladies face — from tending to a car that needs repair to visiting with a former husband to the inevitable confrontation with family — Weitz delves into how this woman, so strong and clear in her beliefs, can become so easily confused when facing the possibility of disappointing someone she loves.
The role and story give Tomlin the chance to deliver a performance of magnificent scope within the confines of a 79-minute road film. At moments she radiates the charm — especially when she smiles — that we have cherished for decades; minutes later she surprises with a dramatic discovery that pierces with precision. In every gesture or glance Tomlin reveals something essential about a most interesting lady who refuses to consider that she is special. The actress builds the performance with economy, never overdoing a line reading or going for a cheap chuckle. It’s not so much that Tomlin acts the role with perfection; rather, for 79 minutes, she inhabits this woman. And, as people lucky enough to be in the theater, we leave feeling we have spent a marvelous time getting to know a fascinating lady. This is a career-topping performance from a special actress.
Tomlin shares the screen with strong actors who make the most of their moments on screen. Sam Elliott — fresh from a role in I’ll See You in My Dreams — brings emotional power to a resonating reunion with grandma — while Marcia Gay Harden delivers a cynical charisma to her rendition of the disconnected daughter. As the granddaughter Sage, Julia Garner uses vulnerability and openness to make the character an ideal counterpart to Tomlin’s irresistible presence.
When too many movies overpromise, Grandma delivers more than it advertises. This is a remarkable film for what it creates within 79 minutes. And the memory of Lily Tomlin’s performance will last a long time. She reminds us how much we cherish every character she creates.
(Grandma is rated R for language and some drug use. The film runs 79 minutes and is available online.)