You could never blame Holly Hunter for not working as much as we’d like.
She could pick a series, here and there, voice Elastigirl in two “Incredibles” movies, show up in tiny but sparkling supporting turns in “The Big Sick” and take a swing at the odd indie drama with promise (“Manglehorn”).
But the glory of her Oscar-winning years, when she was the dazzling muse of James Brooks (“Broadcast News”), the Coens (“Raising Arizona,””O Brother Where Art Thou”), Jane Campion (“The Piano”) and playwright Beth Henley (“Miss Firecracker”) was always going to prove impossible to cling to.
The writing set a high standard, the parts were meatier and the novelty of her rarely-hidden drawl made her work stand out, aside from the fact she was doing the most translucent, beatific acting of the ’80s and 90s. Aging is always tougher on an actress’s career, but in her case working less pointed to a Hollywood and indie cinema that just wasn’t getting the job done in terms of screenwriting.
Like late-career Bette Davis, her career tells us she’s a woman out of her time.
“Strange Weather” has the feel of a vintage Hunter vehicle — a quirky Southern story, a hint of Southern Gothic in the tragedy hanging over it, an intelligent, desirable character pushing 60, a woman still impulsive, temperamental and testy.
But writer-director Katherine Dieckmann lets her down. And every so often, Hunter lets Dieckmann down — showing little of the flash of her best work, out-acted in a couple of scenes, unable to animate recycled cliches, nothing special in an utterly generic, obvious and blase road trip dramedy.
She plays Darcy Walker, an admissions clerk at a tiny Georgia college in her hometown, no college degree but smarter than that, rail thin and overly fond of her duct-taped-together Ford pickup and cowgirl hat, cigarettes and drinking alone.
Carrie Coon positively glows as her best friend and cross-the-street neighbor, a co-conspirator in their late-night gardening binges, probably “an actual lesbian (living with a colleague), but maybe just dabbling.”
Kim Coates of TV’s “Sons of Anarchy” and “Bad Blood” is the bar owner with whom Darcy has had an on-again, off-again fling that’s lasted for years. But she keeps him at arm’s length.
Darcy’s not overly-concerned that layoffs are coming at GPU, sort of adrift and without purpose. Then a chance encounter with a guy (Turner Crumbley) she knew as a kid rattles her. We learn Darcy had a son. He’s dead. And a college classmate has gotten rich down in New Orleans running a make-your-own-hot-dog franchise that sounds like her late son’s college business class pitch.
There’s nothing for it but to start digging around in the past she has avoided grappling with, asking questions about son Walker’s last days of those who knew him — stoners, roomies, pals.
There’s nothing for it but taking a little road trip down to the Big Easy to confront the scoundrel.
Darcy meets up with young men from her son’s past, and an old man from her own. Glenne Headly, whose career was hemmed in much the way Hunter’s has been, plays an old drinking buddy.
It took Dieckmann five years to pull together the financing for this indie, filmed mostly in small town Mississippi. Imitation Faulkner and Beth Henley is a harder sell than telling a story about women of a certain age.
Her film is a predictable rehash of road picture cliches — any excuse to take “backroads” — and imitation Faulkner Southernisms, with lines about having to “yield to your indomitable will” and “You do know it’s my job to protect you from you?” and that trite Southern literary trope about how a chance encounter or coincidence means the dead are “calling to me” give away the writer-director’s game.
Her son’s “issues” with his mama similarly feel small when freighted with so much import.
“He wanted things to be normal!”
“NORMAL is over-RATED!”
Hunter does what she can with these lines, and the character. Coon gets the picture’s big speeches and best moments. And none of it, including the “dramatic” climax, amounts to a hill of beans, as we say down here. Beans we’ve seen and cooked too many times to count, beans we’ve been served too often to find anything novel or tasty in them.
MPAA Rating: R for a scene of sexuality
Cast: Holly Hunter, Carrie Coon, Kim Coates, Glenne Headly and Turner Crumbley
Credits: Written and directed by Katherine Dieckmann. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:32