Holly Hunter is a national treasure, and it feels like we don’t give her the due she’s deserved. She’s truly one of the great actresses of our time, but as is Hollywood traditional, only a very few actresses are given interesting roles past the age of, like, 34. Fortunately, writer/director Katherine Dieckmann (Diggers) has such a role for this impeccably talented actress. Strange Weather is a character-centric drama about grief that just so happens to take place in the South. It’s not exactly a new story, but it’s one worth telling, and it’s one that’s told well and builds on a pair of terrific lead performances from Hunter and The Leftovers and Gone Girl actress Carrie Coon.
Hunter stars as Darcy Baylor, an academic administration assistant at a small Mississippi college who lives alone but keeps good company in the form of friend/co-worker/neighbor Byrd (Coon). When Byrd calls Darcy up one night, asking about a supposedly wealthy alum who might be willing to chip in for the college, the person in question turns out to be an old friend of Darcy’s son’s, Walker, who killed himself seven years ago. Byrd casually mentions that this friend named Mark now owns a chain of hot dog restaurants that turn out to be modeled on an exact idea Walker had in business school, spurred by his frequent hot dog eating as a child with his mother.
This revelation spurs Darcy into action, who sets out to track down Walker’s friends one-by-one and find out exactly what happened the night that he decided to commit suicide, saving a conversation with Mark (now living in Louisiana) for last. Byrd accompanies Darcy on this possibly ill-conceived road trip, and along the way ghosts from Darcy’s past resurface, and old wounds are reopened.
Hunter fully embodies the character of Darcy, who doesn’t have a lot of money but has a bit of a Southern charm (and more than a little edge) to her that makes her fun to be around. Unsurprisingly, Hunter has no trouble finding the arc in Darcy’s journey, going to some very dark places in unexpected ways—when Byrd discovers that Darcy has brought along the gun her son used to kill himself, she laughs it off in the most nonchalant manner possible.
Coon, also, is terrific here. The actress got her big breakout role on HBO’s The Leftovers, on which she shines, but most audience members probably know her best from her stellar work in David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Byrd is much more complex than your simple neighbor friend, and Coon navigates the character’s relationship with Darcy impeccably. It feels as though these two women have at once known each other their whole lives and also have never met.
Indeed, party of Darcy’s journey is coming to terms with the fact that in life, we can’t ever truly know someone entirely inside and out. Dickemann does a fine job of threading this needle throughout the course of the film, while always keeping the focus on her characters through plenty of close-ups and swell exchanges of dialogue. There’s a scene in the middle of the movie between Hunter and Coon that I could’ve watched play out for an hour more; these are two tremendous actresses performing at the top of their game, which is a fun thing to watch!
The mystery aspect of Walker’s suicide gives the film a narrative drive, but some of the puzzle pieces along the way don’t entirely work, with the script at times starting to meander a bit. When it’s focused on Darcy, or Darcy and Byrd, the film is at its strongest, and while it builds to a conclusion that’s only semi-satisfying, emotionally the film still connects quite well, and you feel as though Darcy’s truly gone through a significant experience.
Grief is hard. It’s though to let go of someone you love. But in order to move on, you have to, you know, move on. Strange Weather is a fairly solid chronicle of the grieving process, but an even better performance showcase for the tremendous Holly Hunter. It’s a terrific reminder of just how good she is when given the right material to work with, and that’s reason enough to seek Strange Weather out.
Strange Weather does not currently have a release date.
To catch up on all of our TIFF 2016 coverage thus far click here, or peruse our list of reviews below:
- American Pastoral
- The Bad Batch
- The Birth of a Nation
- Blair Witch
- The Bleeder
- Free Fire
- The Handmaiden
- The Limehouse Golem
- The Magnificent Seven
- A Monster Calls
- Nocturnal Animals
- The Promise
- Their Finest
- Trespass Against Us
- A United Kingdom
- Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey