Blues for Willadean: Film Review

Blues for Willadean film still
The bottom line: Static and stagey melodrama about domestic abuse, trailer trash style.

Beth Grant and Octavia Spencer star in this southern-fried drama about a battered trailer-park housewife.

Del Shores’ film is based on his stage play The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, but its new title is the only refined element of this overwrought melodrama about a battered woman and her abusive husband. Numbingly static and tedious, Blues for Willadean is no doubt receiving its token theatrical release thanks to the presence of recent Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) in a supporting role.

The title character (Beth Grant) is seen living in fear of physical and verbal abuse from her hot-tempered, violent husband J.B. (David Steen, properly menacing). Watching worriedly from the sidelines is LaSonia (Spencer) her next door neighbor in the Texas trailer park that provides uncomfortably close quarters for everyone.

Adding fuel to the fire is new arrival Rayleen (Dale Dickey), a trash-talking cocktail waitress at the bar J.B. frequents who doesn’t let her advancing years prevent her from wearing the skimpiest of halter-tops and short-shorts. The revelation that she and J.B. are having an affair leads to a violently melodramatic conclusion that will no doubt have some audience members cheering.

The film’s sole departure from strained naturalism is a series of musical sequences in which a female blues singer (Debby Holiday) performs smoky renditions of original numbers whose lyrics reflect Willadean’s plight. Needless to say, the Greek chorus-style device gets tired quickly.

Other than the nicely low-keyed Spencer, most of the cast are repeating their original stage roles, with their broad, histrionic performances registering as way over-the-top on the big screen. Tech credits are purely sub-par.


Production: Del Shores Productions, Big Leap Productions.

Cast: Beth Grant, Octavia Spencer, Dale Dickey, David Steen, Debby Holiday, Louise Beard.

Director/screenwriter: Del Shores.

Producers: Emerson Collins, Robert L. Rearden, Jr., Robert L. Rearden III, Del Shores.

Executive producer: Louise H. Beard.

Director of photography: David Sanderson.

Editor: Luis Colina.

Production designer: Chris Anthony Miller.

Costume designer: T. Ashanti Mozelle.

Composer: Joe Patrick Ward.

Not rated, 113 min.