D: Katherine Dieckmann / 91m
Cast: Holly Hunter, Carrie Coon, Kim Coates, Shane Jacobsen, Glenne Headly, Walker Babington, Craig Boe, Ransom Ashley, Susan Gallagher, Choppy Guillotte
Still grieving seven years after her son, Walker (Ashley), committed suicide at the age of twenty-four, Darcy Baylor (Hunter) learns that a friend of her son back then, Mark Wright (Jacobsen), appropriated a business plan that Walker had come up with, and has made a success of the idea. Wright has even used a childhood memory that Walker had that illustrated his original concept for a chain of hot dog restaurants. Darcy decides to head down to New Orleans – where Wright has opened a chain of Hot Dawg sites – to confront him and find out why he did what he did. She’s accompanied by her best friend, Byrd (Coon), and along the way they learn things about Walker’s last day, and particularly the last few hours before he died, that brings into question the perception that he killed himself. When Darcy reaches New Orleans she has far more questions than she started out with, but when she finally confronts Wright, she learns that the answers she’s seeking aren’t as cut and dried as she expected…
In assembling Strange Weather, writer/director Katherine Dieckmann has made a movie that combines an examination of personal grief, a mystery, and a road trip, and in such a way that the viewer never quite knows where each element is leading them, or if any of them will be resolved satisfactorily. In portraying the residual grief that Darcy feels, Dieckmann shows how hollow her life has been, and how difficult it’s been to move forward when so many unspoken questions have been holding her back. Dieckmann also shows how Darcy’s grief has kept her going at the same time, and how she’s used that grief as a form of emotional support. It all makes Darcy a flawed yet interesting character, and unpredictable as well, as evidenced by her taking the gun that Walker killed himself with, on her journey to New Orleans. Dieckmann also keeps the mystery surrounding Walker’s death ticking over in the background, ever present and fueling Darcy’s need for the truth, and Byrd’s reasons for going with her. As the road trip takes them inexorably to the Big Easy, it serves as a conduit for the truth, and as a reckoning for the grief that Darcy feels so intensely.
Darcy is played with impeccable artistry by Hunter, an actress who just keeps getting better and better, and who portrays the pain and sadness that Darcy feels so adroitly that you can’t help but be moved by the determination she shows in getting the answers she needs. Hunter shows both the character’s inner strength and her unacknowledged vulnerability, and gives a performance of such subtlety and range that Darcy’s actions, even those that are somewhat questionable, retain a credibility that makes her all the more sympathetic. The supporting performances are good too, but Hunter is in a league of her own, and Dieckmann wisely leaves her to it (when someone like Hunter is this good, it’s best just to step back and make sure the cameras are rolling). The movie is honest and sincere in its approach to the material, and while a couple of plot developments do feel a little forced (and lifted from a daytime soap opera), by continually returning to Darcy’s dogged quest for answers to questions she hasn’t formulated yet, the movie remains a fascinating, if low-key, journey into the world of a mother who just can’t find it within herself to close the door fully on the death of her son… and who is proved right in not doing so.
Rating: 8/10 – an impressive performance by Hunter is the bedrock of a movie that is effective in terms of its examination of the nature of overwhelming grief, and which offers unexpected insights at several points along the way; David Rush Morrison’s cinematography provides a rich colour palette for the characters to appear against, and there’s a terrific soundtrack courtesy of Sharon Van Etten that complements the material in a rewarding and unforeseen manner, making Strange Weather the kind of movie that deserves a wider audience.