The first thing we learn about Katherine Dieckmann’s “Strange Weather” is it’s set on the 88th consecutive day without rain in a tiny Georgia town. Plants are wilting; so are people. Everyone is hysterical and exhausted, and no one more so than Darcy Baylor (Holly Hunter). Crackling with the actress’ firecracker energy, early introductions to Darcy’s life make it clear that there are still plenty of secrets left to be told.
In her first feature since 2009’s “Motherhood,” Dieckmann’s film is the kind of showcase that many actresses over 40 would kill to get — but Hunter is made for it. Joined by recent Emmy nominee Carrie Coon as Byrd, her best friend, neighbor, and co-worker, “Strange Weather” is the sort of film that passes the Bechdel Test 20 times over, while also proving why the metric is so important in the first place. Made by and about women, offering space for Hunter and Coon to prove why they’re some of our best working actresses, films like this are rare and worth the fight they require to be made.
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Despite the closeness of their bond — we first meet Darcy and Byrd while they’re both sneaking outside at night, eager for a little relief from the stifling heat — it’s soon apparent that the women are hiding something from each other. Byrd can’t understand why Darcy is so cruel to her adoring ex-boyfriend Clay (Kim Coates), while Darcy can’t conceal her questions about Byrd’s relationship with live-in girlfriend Geri (Andrene Ward-Hammond). Those seemingly minor misunderstandings take on an entirely new dimension when the obsessive Darcy embarks on a quixotic quest for answers that even Byrd isn’t eager to find.
Hunter and Coon have a natural, believable chemistry; it would be enough to watch them quibble through their lives and their own friendship. Unfortunately, Dieckmann’s screenplay soon becomes concerned with a macguffin of a mystery that threatens to overtake even its talented actresses.
Through a series of contrivances and twists, Darcy’s fragile life is upended by the sudden revelation that her son’s suicide, a years-old tragedy, might have an added dimension that makes the event all the more horrific. In short order, Darcy becomes convinced that her son’s old roommate, a wealthy good-old-boy who owns a chain of hot dog-centric family restaurants, actually stole the concept from her son, and the betrayal may have resulted in the 20-something killing himself. Obsessed with exacting revenge, Darcy and Bryd set out across the state to find and confront the dog-hawking Southerner and perhaps finally put to rest some old demons.
Too bad then that the pair find more demons along the way, big ones that threaten to overtake the film’s best assets.
While Darcy’s rage is pure and understandable (and boy does Hunter sell the hell out of it), “Strange Weather” struggles to move past the sense that everything is happening too fast and too close. Coincidences fly at every turn, slingshotting both Darcy and Byrd into a situation neither is prepared for, forcing both actresses to shoulder some heavy scenes (including a revealing argument that belongs in both ladies’ highlight reel, it’s that potent). Hunter particularly excels in a confrontation that forces her to run through a gamut of emotions in the minimum of time, but by now that’s old hat for her.
The film is at its best when Dieckmann slows down the action and revelations for its real charm: two ladies, on the road, talking. More movies could stand to trust their stars to make an artful conversation as compelling as any action sequence or as exciting as a revenge flick. “Strange Weather” has the stars; it just needs to let them shine.
“Strange Weather” opens in theaters, VOD, and on digital platforms on Friday, July 28.
Check out an exclusive clip from the film below, showing off both Hunter and Coon hard at work.
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