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Review: 'Big Stone Gap' corny, but a passion project for Patrick Wilson

Big Stone Gap (PG) isn't everyone's cup of sweet tea. It's a homespun tale populated by broadly drawn characters and solid actors — Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Krakowski, Anthony LaPaglia — sounding like they gulped hush puppy batter.

At the center is a pleasant romance between St. Petersburg product Patrick Wilson's coal mining hunk Jack MacChesney and Ashley Judd's pharmacist spinster Ave Maria Muligan. Around the edges is a lot of corn.

But Adriana Trigiani's directing debut, based on her 2001 novel, is special to Wilson, who called it "the most personal movie that I've ever been a part of."

Big Stone Gap, Va., is where his father, former WTVT anchorman John Wilson began his broadcasting career, where Patrick and his brothers Paul and Mark played while visiting grandparents.

"We just wanted to be a part of (the movie)," Patrick said by telephone from New York, where he's filming The Conjuring 2. "Thankfully, selfishly, I'm glad it took that long to get made, so I'd be old enough to play (Jack)."

Trigiani is a longtime family friend, and having Patrick attached brought other respected actors to the project. He could also squeeze in family members as extras and most sentimentally, a single shot shared with his father. It's brief, just a few wordless seconds, but it matters.

"That's why we did the movie," Patrick said. "I know he loved being there. ... The reason that he's only in that one shot was because of scheduling and a tiny budget. ... But just to be in the same frame with him was pretty wonderful."

A much larger role went to older brother Paul Wilson, and not because of nepotism. An experienced actor, Paul was originally hired by Trigiani to work as a publicist. Patrick didn't want to push it.

"Paul is one of the reasons I wanted to be an actor in the first place," he said. "I always knew if there was a movie I wanted him to be in it. But I didn't want to overstep any boundaries. I'm very humble when it comes to hawking my friends or family, promoting them."

Patrick suggested Paul for a brief role as Sen. John Warner, husband of Elizabeth Taylor (played by Patrick's wife, Dagmara Dominczyk) who visit Big Stone Gap on a campaign stop. Trigiani surprised Patrick, saying: "Well, actually I'd love for him to play Lyle.'

"I said whoa, well, of course," Wilson said. "Now I feel stupid that I didn't suggest that."

Lyle Makin exemplifies Big Stone Gap's soggy green tomato humor, a leering lush breezing into town, sweeping Iva Lou Wade (Jenna Elfman) off her feet. He's a cartoon like most of the movie's characters, suitable for a Mama's Family rerun. Paul Wilson's awareness of that works smoother than co-stars taking things seriously.

Patrick laughed off a request to assess his brother's performance.

"Oh, gosh, you're crazy if you think I'm going to get into that," he said. "I think the best compliment is that he and Jenna work together so well on the screen. ... You could tell they love playing these characters. It was exciting to watch."

Big Stone Gap opens Friday at selected theaters. Grade: C

Review: 'Big Stone Gap' corny, but a passion project for Patrick Wilson 10/06/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 11:06am]
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