In the opening moments of writer/director Daniel Stine's Virginia Minnesota, you can't help but feel optimistic that the film is about to become one of those standout indie flicks...the kind of indie flick that you rejoice when you find at some local film festival because you feel like you're part of some special cinema club for having seen it.
After all, that's why those of us who go to film festivals go to film festivals. We love film and we want to discover those gems.
Unfortunately, after an absolutely delightful animated opening with Vikings and children and adventure (Oh my!), the real Virginia Minnesota settles into its familiar road trip tale involving Lyle (Rachel Hendrix) and Addison (Aurora Perrineau) and the residential home, a "social care" home, where they grew up as one of several children and where now the matron of the home has passed away.
It takes a while for Virginia Minnesota to get around to its story, a sure sign that Stine either doesn't completely trust his material or simply doesn't know how to structure the film in such a way that keeps the audience invested. The film's episodic adventures do not add up to an intriguing or even entertaining experience, so disjointed are these experiences and so non-revealing they are of anything that actually matters within the fabric of the film.
Don't get me wrong. Films don't have to be cohesive. They don't have to make sense. There's no rule book that demands "You will make a film this way or you have failed...well, unless you go to film school. However, one gets the sense watching Virginia Minnesota that this is all supposed to make sense and this is all supposed to draw us in the stories of Lyle and Addison.
It doesn't work and it never happens. I didn't care about Lyle and I didn't care about Addison.
There are bits and pieces of Virginia Minnesota that are absolutely stellar.
Pedro Ciampolini's lensing is top-notch, a luxurious and enveloping experience that elicits a sensory experience that the film never quite rises up to itself. While it feels a tad twee within the context of the film, it would be impossible not to vibe with the music of Gary Dworetsky.
Heck, even the duo leading performances of Hendrix and Perrineau have remarkable potential here, though they're never really given a chance to build energy or really connect with one another. It's easy to understand why both actresses signed up for the film - there's something resembling greatness bubbling underneath the surface of Virginia Minnesota. Again, it just never rises.
Virginia Minnesota is an almost film. It almost makes sense. It almost comes together. It's almost good. It was almost worth watching.
But, well, almost isn't quite good enough and in a film that starts off so brilliantly almost can't help but be a disappointment.
Virginia Minnesota is screening as part of the 2018 Indy Film Fest held at Newfields in Midtown Indy from April 26 - May 6, 2018. For information on Indy Film Fest, visit the Indy Film Fest website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic