'Strange Weather' by Katherine DieckmanN
"Hello folks. Today we're heading into the 88th consecutive day of no rain in North Georgia in this, the hottest September on record, and there's no end in sight."
There's a drought in North Georgia, and Darcy Baylor is sneaking out at night to water plants in defiance of the local water ban. She finds her good friend and neighbor, Byrd Ritt doing the same, and it's those recalcitrant natures that will drive them through the odyssey they'll soon undertake in the Katherine Dieckmann — written and directed feature, 'Strange Weather'.
In Theaters & On Demands July 28, '17
Reviewed by Chris Hartman
Darcy (Holly Hunter) is an indomitable free-spirit who's determined to find out why her late son Walker had committed suicide just before he was to graduate from business school, seven years earlier. Darcy has the sweetness of a warm chocolate bar wrapped in barbed wire, but is constantly reminded of that tragic event wherever she travels around town, as when she runs into Walker's former classmate Kevin Jenkins (Turner Crumbley), who now owns a successful accounting firm in Alabama.
Darcy is employed at the local college, where her position is in jeopardy from anticipated budget cuts. Byrd (Carrie Coon) works there also, trying to raise money from wealthy alumni. It's Byrd who first mentions Mark Wright, the wealthy former classmate of Walker's, and one of Byrd's fundraising contacts, who's now running a company that franchises a chain of hot dog restaurants, called "The Dawg House."
Darcy is devastated. She knew Walker wrote a similar business plan before he killed himself, and Darcy suspects Wright stole it. It starts consuming her, as she never liked Wright (who had Walker pick up his dry cleaning in school because he knew Walker needed the money). Wright's website pitch about going to the corner hot dog stand to buy chili dogs and lemonade—enjoying it even in the rain, as she and Walker used to do—confirms Darcy's suspicions.
Shortly after this revelation, Darcy has her on-again/off-again boyfriend Clay Watson (Kim Coates) and Byrd over to her house. Darcy and Byrd decide to travel together to New Orleans to confront Wright, along the way contacting any and all of Walker's friends, including Jenkins and fellow classmate Buford LaPierre, who could help her find out just what happened on the night he died. When a startled Byrd finds a gun under the front seat of Darcy's truck, you can't help but imagine that this is shaping up as some fateful Thelma and Louise or Bonnie and Clyde trek into oblivion.
The film touchingly focuses on numerous small details, such as the old transistor radio hanging from her truck's dashboard; Darcy lovingly drawing water from the kitchen faucet for her dog and her houseplants; to the beautiful cinematography of rusty, junked trucks and buses lining the sleepy back roads of Mississippi and Louisiana. And the lilting, often melancholic Sharon Van Etten soundtrack perfectly complements the film's lazy, steamy, late-summertime South.
The pair first stops in Meridian, Mississippi to see a friend, Mary Lou Healy (Glenne Headley). The lively conversation at Mary Lou's place where Darcy, Byrd and Mary Lou are drinking and sharing stories is sparkling. Mary Lou is a combination of wild spirit and patient logic, who punctuates her more trenchant remarks with cheery quips: "If you go outside, close the slider. I like my condo as cold as a Popsicle." She also isn't afraid to hold up a mirror to Darcy, who openly expresses deep-seated resentment toward Wes (who beat Darcy when he was drunk) and the whole Sanford family, who she feels abandoned her after Walker's death. But Mary Lou manages to effectively channel Darcy's anger and self-pity into at least some momentary reflection.
Mary Lou uses her honey-dripping drawl to arrange an interview for Darcy with Wright's office, using the name Addie Bundren. After making the call, Mary Lou incredulously asks Byrd, "Where the hell did you get a crazy name like that?" Byrd replies, "Faulkner." A poignant reference, indeed.
Now in flood-ravaged Louisiana anger overflows when Byrd confesses to Darcy that she and Walker had an affair. With a tone of resignation, Byrd finally says to Darcy, "Do you know why I came on this trip with you? It's not because I think you need some showdown with Mark Wright. No, I came with you because I wanted to see you find a way back into this world again before you let this kill you."
Strange Weather's director and writer Dieckmann, who has a great affinity for the direction of John Cassavetes, Jane Campion, and Terrence Malick, believes fiercely in character development as a primary driver of her films. She has said that Holly Hunter's Darcy reminds her so much of Gena Rowlands from Cassavetes' Woman Under the Influence, in the sheer untethered power of her impulsiveness and spontaneity. Dieckmann has called Hunter "the most detail-focused actor I've ever worked with."
In Strange Weather, the dialogue is so powerfully rich, and the details so touchingly and endearingly genuine you can feel you are actually in those dingy motel rooms, or sharing a drink at Mary Lou's condo. As Dieckmann tells it, "If you're a director who contrives something that's supposed to seem authentic, it will definitely come across as contrived."