MOVIE: MISS VIRGINIA
STARRING: UZO ADUBA; MATTHEW MODINE; NILES FITCH; VANESSA WILLIAMS
DIRECTED BY: R.J. DANIEL HANNA
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Miss Virginia is a throwback kind of movie. It's going back to a time where movies had a message and reminded audiences of the good, hard working people in the world. The similar pictures that came to my mind was Lean On Me, with Morgan Freeman playing the valiant principle to turn a school around, or Edward James Olmos molding his flunking students into straight A kids in Stand and Deliver, or Denzel Washington fighting away gangs in Hard Lessons. All three movies carry a bit of gravitas to the roles, with actors that have tremendous pedigree behind them as well. That may be why I was a bit mixed on Miss Virginia, which is based on the true story of a mother that put her son into a Washington D.C. private school to get him away from the violence and crime at his public school, but his time there ends short because his mother couldn't foot the bill. This becomes Virginia's calling to a mission, to create a scholarship that would help underprivileged students to go to better schools. It's a powerful story, told in a standard underdog way, with montages of family strife, and with a strong performance from Uzo Aduba that gives it just enough to be worth the time. Miss Virginia is cheesy, but sometimes it's quite nice.
The problem with a movie of this nature is the predictability. Constantly, with biopics, or films “based on true events”, you can get an idea of where the director is going to take it. In this case, director R.J. Daniel Hanna makes something that feels like a mixture of a made-for-TV-movie and a movie that will inspire us. There is a constant cadence in the script, written by Erin O'Connor, which becomes tedious and lazy. It involves a scene with dramatics followed by a montage set to gospel music and repeats. It's this style of filmmaking which gives off a cheap, back lot feel, when Miss Virginia should feel lived in, and authentic.
What does work in Miss Virginia is the acting from an impressive and worthy cast. Aduba is a revelation of theatrics, which had me wondering why we haven't seen more of the Emmy winner? The Orange is the New Black actor has played rolls with a wild side, but as Miss Virginia she is an even tempered, inspiring mother, willing to work as many jobs, do whatever it takes to give her son the chance to succeed. Matthew Modine is in the supporting role as Congressman Cliff Williams, playing the part as a relaxed, less stuck up politician than we would recognize, and he is willing to listen to Virginia. The other impressive performance is Virginia's son James (Niles Fitch), the swinging pendulum of the story, caught between the pressures of street gangs, bad men begging him to sell drugs, or the pressure to be the student he knows he can be.
There are plenty of lame moments in Miss Virginia, designed to be inspiring or uplifting, but only succeeding at receiving eye rolls. It might be in the budget, which is why it's a movie lacking in style to become a bigger hit, such as last years The Hate U Give, a movie that had me weeping at the end. However, Miss Virginia is also shockingly current, considering this week the Chicago public school teachers union went on strike again, fighting the system to make sure our schools are properly funded for our children to thrive. It is that reminder in the story of Miss Virginia that kept me appreciating it, with the proper message of giving all kids an opportunity to succeed in their education, no matter what neighborhood they live in. That education we provide for our children is more important today than ever. It makes a difference in their lives. The way we get the message may be sloppy, but Miss Virginia has just enough positives to have a reason to exist. The children deserve it.
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady