At the age of 59, Holly Hunter is on a roll again. After being nominated for four Academy Awards (and winning one in 1993 for The Piano), and working almost non-stop on a succession of film, TV, and theater projects, 2017 is poised to be another banner year for the actress. Her role in The Big Sick is already winning rave reviews; and her “kick butt” character in Strange Weather will surely add to that.
Strange Weather is about a woman’s search for the truth about her 23-year old son’s death. Seven years later, she is still looking for answers and still wracked with guilt and pain. So she takes off on a road trip determined to find some closure. It’s a role Hunter inhabits like a second skin. And it’s a character close to writer/director Katherine Dieckmann’s heart:
“I set out to write a female character who resembles many of the women I know and admire, and who I am frustrated to rarely see on the big screen: women who remain charged, turbulent, inquisitive, passionate, and unconventional at any age. In this mission I found the optimal take-no-prisoners collaborator in Holly Hunter, who perfectly understood and sublimely embodied Darcy.”
Tiny but muscular, Hunter’s character, Darcy Baylor, is a force to be reckoned with. Her wild and unkempt hair is stuffed under a straw cowboy hat, and a Marlboro Red dangles from her lips or fingers almost non-stop. To quote an old equine expression, “She looks like she was rode hard and put away wet.” But that’s just what we see on the outside. Inside, you know something is festering. Something is coming. It’s like an approaching storm. You’re just not sure when it will arrive.
But this film also has a lot of more subtle moments. There is great sensitivity and quiet in some of the scenes, like when her boss asks her, “You don’t have any dependents, correct?” She pauses, purses her lips just a bit, and then answers in a barely audible voice, “No”.
And the script is taught and clever. It plays like a mystery with Darcy finding clues and unraveling truths, each one leading to another revelation and another turn in the road. The journey is physical and psychological. Her best friend, Byrd (Carrie Coon), takes to the road with her, asking the hard questions, and acting as Darcy’s moral compass. The late, great Glenne Headly is spectacular in a small but pivotal role as Mary Lou Healy. And Kim Coates (Sons of Anarchy) as her on-again, off-again boyfriend strikes just the right note of pathos and passion.
Kim Coates and Holly Hunter
Balancing out the emotionally gripping scenes are hauntingly beautiful portraits of the South, with its muted colors and storm clouds swirling. David Morrison also has a light touch with mood-setting shots that don’t, thankfully, call attention to themselves – a quick reflection in a phone booth, a crane shot above Darcy’s truck on a dusty back road, and even a sex scene, which is handled with grace and tact. And editor Madeleine Gavin’s work here is seamless.
I also loved the fact that between the sun, the sweat on the characters, and the buzz of flies, you could almost feel the heat and humidity. That, and Hunter’s Georgia twang, totally transported me.
Dieckmann credits her producers, Jana Edelbaum and Rachel Cohen, with supporting her vision of the film every step of the way. “They understood perfectly well what a rare opportunity we had to tell this story of what it takes for a complex woman to move forward in her life, on her own terms, and find her singular path to redemption.”
This is a thoughtful, and thought-provoking film that explores the dynamics of loss. Don’t miss it.
Top photo: Holly Hunter
Photo Credit: Brainstorm Media
Strange Weather is in Theaters, VOD and Digital Platforms on July 28, 2017.