Review: 'Big Stone Gap' Has Some Big Problems

Scott Carney ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Ashley Judd and Patrick Wilson in Big Stone Gap. Photo Credit: ArtAffects Entertainment
Ashley Judd and Patrick Wilson in Big Stone Gap. Photo Credit: ArtAffects Entertainment
Adriana Trigiani’s Big Stone Gap, based on her 2000 novel of the same name, is a film that has both an excess of plot and a lack of one. In other words, the film jumps around between so many different arcs but doesn’t give any of them enough attention for the audience to actually feel emotionally connected. That doesn’t mean that this film should have been longer; the banality of these plots makes the film feel like it far exceeds its hour and a half running time.
The story focuses on Ave Maria Mulligan (Ashley Judd), who has lived in the small town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia her entire life. The primary conflict of the film is that she has just turned 40 and–gasp!–isn’t married. Her boyfriend, local actor Theodore (John Benjamin Hickey) does not want to commit, and Ave has accepted herself as the old maid of Big Stone Gap. However, she soon catches the eye of good-natured local coal miner Jack (Patrick Wilson). Which man will she choose? As with any romantic comedy ever, everyone knows within the first five minutes yet still has to wait an hour and a half for the answer to be revealed.
Whoopi Goldberg, John Benjamin Hickey, Jenna Elfman and Ashley Judd in Big Stone Gap. Photo Credit: ArtAffect Entertainment
The blandness of the main plot is perhaps why the film felt the need to include so many subplots, all of which have potential to be real conflicts, but are instead glossed over. For example, a major subplot finds Ave discovering that her biological father is living in Italy. As interesting a story as this could make, the film never dives into Ave’s feelings about her father, and only brings the story back when it is dramatically convenient. Another subplot, featuring a random town visit from Elizabeth Taylor (Dagmara Dominczyk), adds absolutely nothing to the film. On top of this, the film also tries to be a comedy, but is severely lacking in that department with only Whoopi Goldberg’s Fleeta getting an occasional mild chuckle.
However, the reason why this film is so unbearable to sit through is that there is no conflict other then the aforementioned love triangle, a conflict that is always seen in romantic comedies. The film just transitions from event to event and resolves it neatly without any consequences whatsoever. Yet another subplot features an explosion in the town mines, in which all of the miners make it out safely. The End.
Whoopi Goldberg and Erika Coleman in Big Stone Gap. Photo Credit: ArtAffects Entertainment
At its core, Big Stone Gap tries to be a “slice of life” movie but the characters are so uninteresting and the plots so disjointed from each other that everything about it feels forced rather then lifelike. Furthermore, people in real life face actual conflicts and consequences every day, something that this town is apparently lucky enough to be rid of.
If only everyone could live in Trigiani’s version of Big Stone Gap.
Overall Grade: C-
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  1. This movie is a must see. While I agree to a certain extent about the subplots (let’s not forget the conflict involving Ave’s stepaunt, one that should have been more deeply evolved),
    I have to say that the criticism involving the Elizabeth Taylor and Warner scene a bit unfair. This real life event is such an important part of local lore and it put Big Stone on the map when it happened. Although this particular scene could have been executed differently, it adds some comedic relief and represents a unifying local story. The movie features breathtaking scenery, convicted acting and a factor that many films lack: authenticity. The movie has been in the works so long because Trigiani didn’t want it to be filmed elsewhere. It was entirely shot in Virginia, in its namesake. The film is also loaded with sub conflicts, such as race, ethnicity and class in Appalachia, that it might take some additional research for those conflicts to make sense.

  2. This review is bad. I’m pretty sure the writer is not the target audience. The book is a first in four series and the movie concentrates only on the first so there is more to the story and if have never read the books you may not understand where the story is going.

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