Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart said it right when they wrote the lyrics for the now famous Cheers theme song. And so if you “want to go where everybody knows your name”, then Big Stone Gap will make you feel right at home, cozy and warm. The film, which takes place in the real town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia and is based on director Adriana Trigiani’s novel and real-life experiences, is a small slice of small town life, characters who have great chemistry with each other and will perhaps make you want to befriend them, and a story that is essentially slow-going, but sweet in its own way.
Ave Maria Mulligan (Ashley Judd) has live in Big Stone Gap her whole life. From an Italian background, she’s never felt like she completely fits in her small town, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t well-loved. Running the only drug store in town with her quick-witted friend Fleeta (a rare movie appearance by Whoopi Goldberg), delivering prescriptions, and directing the annual play, Ave Maria feels like the proverbial “old maid” of the town. In a relationship with her always well-dressed best friend Theodore (John Benjamin Hickey), but secretly harboring feelings for proud coal miner Jack MacChesney (Patrick Wilson), who is right at home in Big Stone Gap and isn’t going anywhere. After finding out a family secret, she looks to cut ties with Big Stone Gap and build new ones with her family in Italy, but will she want to leave everything she knows and loves behind?
The romantic relationships in the film are far too predictable, but the characters are fun and so their interactions are always endearing in some way or another. The entire film is like a love letter to small towns, with Big Stone Gap not just being the setting but essentially the one thing binding everyone together. Every character has their own personality that sets them apart from each other, with Jenna Elfman as the Chinese-face-reading, library-book-truck-driving best friend to Ashley Judd’s character being the first one that comes to mind.
Big Stone Gap has a lot of heart, however the most interesting aspect of the story (Judd wanting to fly off to Italy and start anew) isn’t developed enough by the third act to make enough of an impact. The ending becomes predictable, although I was really rooting for it not to be because it didn’t seem to be headed in that direction initially. Judd’s decision in the end isn’t completely by choice, as some of it was taken away from her and that is a bit disappointing in a film that is fun in its own way. Ultimately, Trigiani’s heart is in the right place and the film is very obviously a labor of love that isn’t very heavy on plot but makes you feel like you’re right at home.
Release Date: October 9, 2015 | Director and Screenwriter: Adriana Trigiani | Cast: Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, Jenna Elfman, John Benjamin Hickey, Jane Krakowski | Genre: Romance, Comedy | MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief suggestive material