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What's Wrong With Virginia -- Film Review

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TORONTO -- In "What's Wrong With Virginia," directed by Oscar-winning "Milk" scribe Dustin Lance Black, Jennifer Connelly plays a chain-smoking, reality-challenged, schizophrenic single mom sporting a fake baby bump who has regular kinky sex with a married Mormon sheriff (Ed Harris).

At one point, she also attempts to rob the local bank while disguised in a floral nightgown and a gorilla mask, and, oh yeah, she's got something growing on her lungs that might explain her worsening cough.

But what's wrong with Virginia is small potatoes compared to what's wrong with this film.
Presumably a glib attack on sanctimonious small-town religious hypocrisy informed by Black's own strict Mormon upbringing, the film is tonally all over the place, eventually settling in a rut that comes a lot closer to resembling bad camp than edgy satire.

With its kitschy art direction and parade of unsympathetic characters, the production, which will be released in Canada through eOne Films, could have a tough time finding a willing U.S. audience.

From the opening strains of Debbie Reynolds' "Tammy" and the throwback melodramatic Douglas Sirk visual cues, it would seem that Black has a specific vibe in mind for what is being billed as his feature directorial debut, even though he wrote and directed the film "The Journey of Jared Price" in 2000.

When Connelly's Virginia subsequently bursts upon the scene, looking and behaving like she just wandered off a cheesy production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," it's clear Black has chosen to go down a very tricky road from which there is no turning back.

Although her teenage son, Emmett (Harrison Gilbertson), goes out of his way to protect his mother from herself and others, he's got his own issues, having imaginary discussions with a famous race car driver he's choosing to believe is his biological father.

Meanwhile, Harris' Sheriff Tipton, Virginia's not-so-secret lover, also happens to be running for state senate as his clued-out wife (real-life better half Amy Madigan) drifts through their house in some kind of catatonic state.

By this point, the audience isn't too far behind her, trying to make some sort of sense out of all the nonsense and wondering exactly why they're expected to care.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production: Tictock Studios, Killer Films, Crabcake Entertainment
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Emma Roberts, Amy Madigan
Director-screenwriter: Dustin Lance Black
Executive producers: Gus Van Sant, Yeardley Smith, Jay Froberg, Greg Suess
Producers: Christine Vachon, Hopwood Depree XIV, Scott J. Brooks
Director of photography: Eric Edwards
Production designer: Laura Fox
Music: Nick Urata
Costume designer: Danny Glicker
Editor: John David Allen
Rated R, 116 minutes