That the creaky romantic comedy “Big Stone Gap” attracted such a large ensemble of talented name actors only makes this country-fried turkey feel like an even more notable miss.
Set and shot in writer-director Adriana Trigiani’s hometown of Big Stone Gap, Va., a coal mining burg, the movie revolves around 40-year-old “spinster” and pharmacy owner Ave Maria Mulligan (Ashley Judd). When her mother suddenly dies, the prickly Ave (don’t call her Ava!) discovers a secret with the potential to move her in some dramatic new directions. But will she go there?
Helping Ave navigate things are blunt co-worker Fleeta (Whoopi Goldberg), randy mobile librarian Iva Lou (Jenna Elfman), closeted suitor Theodore (John Benjamin Hickey) and good guy lawyer Spec (Anthony LaPaglia).
At the heart of the story, though, is the push-pull between Ave and handsome coal miner Jack (Patrick Wilson), who’s planning to marry opportunistic bubblehead Sweet Sue (Jane Krakowski) unless, well, you can fill in that blank.
Trigiani’s script, based on her novel, strives for authenticity as she re-creates Big Stone Gap circa 1978. This includes a true-life campaign stop from then-Senate hopeful John Warner and his wife at the time, actress Elizabeth Taylor, who famously choked on a chicken bone during their visit.
But the movie mostly plays so strained and corn pone that it undermines its sincere emotional core and good intentions. The ending is beyond belief.
Judith Ivey, Chris Sarandon, Mary Pat Gleason and Jasmine Guy also pop up in small roles. It should be said, though, that not all actors in the film are cut out to play a rural Virginian, no matter how long their list of acting credits.
‘Big Stone Gap’
MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief suggestive material
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Playing: In general release