'Virginia Minnesota': Film Review

An ambitious mélange that could have used fewer ingredients.

Aurora Perrineau ('Jem and the Holograms') and Rachel Hendrix ('October Baby') play reluctantly reunited childhood friends in a comic drama by first-time feature director Daniel Stine.

A lot happens during a 24-hour road trip in Virginia Minnesota — too much, to be sure. Aiming for picaresque, the coming-of-age story opens in a promisingly imaginative vein but soon becomes overloaded with incident, not to mention genres and moods. The tonal shifts among mystery, folklore, melodrama and satire are neither smooth nor productively rough, and the narrative core remains unclear, lost amid the surfeit of disconnected moving parts.

But writer-director Daniel Stine and cinematographer Pedro Ciampolini use northern Midwestern locations that are seldom glimpsed on the big screen, building an evocative sense of place. And, despite the problematic material, leads Aurora Perrineau and Rachel Hendrix manage to tap into something believable. The film, which premiered at Cinequest, received the Director of Programming Award at the recent Beloit International Film Festival in Wisconsin.

Perrineau is especially good as the surly Addison. Among a quartet of former residents of a home for girls with troubled families, she's the only one who refuses to return to the estate for the reading of the owner's will. And that's a problem because all four young women must be present for the reading — one of a veritable school of red herrings (or merely clunky narrative devices) in the screenplay. Addison's reasons for not wanting to go back are as unconvincing as much of her behavior, but Perrineau has a spontaneous quality that makes her character's cynicism appealing (if nothing else, her disdain for people who pepper their speech with "at the end of the day" makes her someone to root for).

Hendrix's Lyle is Addison's non-rebellious opposite — something the script overplays while the two actors suggest a more nuanced underlying connection. A struggling freelancer who writes a travel blog, Lyle arrives at Larsmont Bluff Home for Girls with a social-experiment robot as her traveling companion; named Mister (and voiced by Harold Perrineau, Aurora Perrineau's father), he's a rolling suitcase with a computer head — and comes in handy when Stine wants to deliver a block of backstory exposition.

Lyle is eager to get the will read so she can make it to an interview for a "real job" — her aspiration to be an employee with a salary and benefits, rather than a creative wanderer living in her car, is the most reality-grounded aspect of the movie. She drives to Grand Marais, Minnesota, to fetch the uncooperative Addison, who, for no reasons in particular, is an unhappy fiancée and a disgruntled guide on boat tours of Lake Superior.

The duo's fitful trip toward an anticlimactic wrap-up unfolds as a disjointed collection of bits and scenes involving drug-laced baked goods, ultra-polite police, bitter family confrontations and a forest-dwelling performance troupe. Lyle's eventual parting from Mister proves more affecting than the story's ostensibly poignant reveals.

Stine shows a deft touch with actors, one that's undermined by the distractingly song-stuffed soundtrack and overstuffed plot. The film is visually striking in ways that make you wish it stirred up emotions to match. The intriguing animation sequence that opens the movie, relating a Great Lakes Viking legend, does come full circle, but not with the intended pow.

Reaching for a memorable blend of whimsy and portent, Stine has come up with something that feels scattered and decidedly lite. Yet the glimmers of promise in Virginia Minnesota suggest that with a more streamlined, focused narrative, he could spin a Midwestern yarn to remember.

Production company: Rushaway Pictures
Cast: Aurora Perrineau, Rachel Hendrix, Jessica Miesel, Julia Keefe, Susan Walters, Eyas Younis, Aaron Hill, Daniel Stine, Carl Palmer, Bradley Hasemeyer, Emma Reaves, Perrineau
Director-screenwriter: Daniel Stine
Producers: Mike Stine, Helen Stine, Daniel Stine
Executive producers: Chris Swain, Debbie Swain, David Swain, Mary Swain
Director of photography: Pedro Ciampolini
Production designer: Preston Grant
Editor: Benjamin Caro
Composer: Gary Dworetsky
Casting directors: Rita Harrell, Jen Kelley

98 minutes