Holly Hunter’s fierce intelligence and sinewy features have made her a compelling — albeit unconventional — movie mom in such films as “The Big Sick,” where she stole the show as a vulnerable, angry advocate for an ailing child.
She plays another mother in “Strange Weather,” a road-trip drama with elements of a thriller. Writer/director Katherine Dieckmann’s film hits familiar notes of poignancy, yet Hunter’s commanding lead performance elevates the material.
The actress plays Darcy, an administrative assistant in a Georgia college town who, after seven years, is still reeling from her son Walker’s suicide. Darcy keeps everyone at arm’s length, including her closest friend, Byrd (Carrie Coon).
A chance encounter leads to a bizarre realization: Walker’s childhood friend Mark (Shane Jacobsen) had stolen Walker’s proposal for a restaurant franchise, and it has proven to be lucrative. Darcy embarks on a fact-finding mission, learning more about the circumstances surrounding her son’s death. This entails a trip to New Orleans, with Darcy bringing along Byrd — and the same pistol that Walker used on himself.
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“Strange Weather” has an easygoing vibe, with Dieckmann taking full advantage of the road movie’s episodic structure. Each stop in a string of vignettes leads to more information about Darcy, with Hunter avoiding obvious ways of depicting grief. More than anything else, she’s angry, using disarming intelligence and humor to get what she wants.
Dieckmann films all this with a dreamy aesthetic, as if to temper the drama with allegory. Still, it is the smallest details — the ubiquity of sweet tea, for instance — that deliver the greatest sense of immersion. A boozy scene featuring Darcy’s old friend (the late Glenne Headly) has all the heightened tension of buddies who know each other too well.
When Darcy finally confronts Mark, the standoff has the crazed unpredictability that comes with an unmoored character who doesn’t quite know what to do with the gun in her hand. It is a powerful scene, made all the more so by Hunter’s coiled intensity.
“Strange Weather” is wise about loss, showing the ripple effects of an untimely death. It is hardly an original concept, yet it handles this subject with the care and integrity it deserves.
(At the Barrywoods.)
Rated R for a scene of sexuality.