Sometimes you need a small indie movie about what seems like nothing to appreciate life and storytelling. Virginia Minnesota is exactly that. Directed by Daniel Stine, the film follows two foster care sisters–Addison (Aurora Perrineau) and Lyle (Rachel Hendrix)–as they find their way back to each other. Bonded by the trauma of losing one of their fellow foster sisters to a drowning, Addison and Lyle are worlds apart as the film begins; Lyle is traveling the states with the Instagrammable roaming robot, “Mister,” while Addison is ever-so-slowly self-destructing in her hometown. At the outset, they’re brought together by the death of their foster mother, whose will can’t be unraveled until all her adopted children are gathered a state or two away. This spurs Lyle to hunt Addison down, who has just decided to break up with her generically hunky fiancé.
“…threaded throughout the film is a commitment to fleshing out the ennui powered by painful memories that holds these two women together.”
While this is surely the stuff of romcom boilerplate narratives, Virginia Minnesota prefers to wade into darker waters for the sake of more compelling, everyday drama. At the heart of this tenuous reunion is terrible trauma-bonding that’s compounded as the two explore each other’s lives in misadventure after misadventure.
Sure, there are laughs, racial subtext and a few plays at the fantastical. But threaded throughout the film is a commitment to fleshing out the ennui powered by painful memories that holds these two women together. Because of this, the vignettes that showcase the connections of pain and memories between Addison and Lyle are some of the strongest moments in the film. In one particular scene, Aurora Perrineau flexes her acting skills as she shuts her pretentious birth mother down with a story of child abuse at the hands of her stepfather, in front of a room of frazzled well-to-dos. Similarly, Rachel Hendrix has a tearful moment with Mister that’s worth its weight in essays about separation anxiety and motherhood. Thankfully, these types of moments make up a good chunk of Virginia Minnesota.
“…shuts her pretentious birth mother down with a story of child abuse at the hands of her stepfather.”
It’s the other, smaller bits that aren’t as compelling. Each one bogs Virginia Minnesota down when it pushes either woman to chew through some “life-change” dialogue. A good example of this is near the end of the film. In a scene where she’s reconnecting with a young girl, Addison has a change of heart about belief and legends, clearly signifying a change in character but also presenting a Large Idea About Life And Whatnot. For me at least, the impact of the moment is undercut by its blatant triteness. It wants to be a rising moment but ends up a bit flat.
Thankfully, that isn’t the overall flow of Virginia Minnesota. Rather, just a momentary set of interruptions in an otherwise sweet, quiet and sad movie. And that’s completely okay, because sometimes that’s the kind of story you need.
Virginia Minnesota (2017) Directed by Daniel Stine. Written by Daniel Stine. Starring Aurora Perrineau, Rachel Hendrix.
3.8/5 Traveling Robots