Miss Virginia is the true life story of Ms. Virginia Walden (Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black), a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in the DC Metro area, struggling to ensure that her son, James (Niles Fitch, This is Us), stays on the straight and narrow in a community mired in drugs and poverty.
In an effort to keep James from the increasing threat of harm at his school, Virginia enrolls him in a private one, where James begins to blossom and take an interest in learning. Although Virginia takes a job cleaning for a Congresswoman in order to afford the tuition, she’s unable to make ends meet and is ultimately forced to take him out and return him to the school from which he came.
What follows in the crux of the story, Virginia fighting against apathetic politicians that play the part of concerned civic officials, but who have little interest in finding a solution to the disparity between the public education system and the privately funded schools.
Aduba is charming as the titular Miss Virginia and seeing her grow from someone uncomfortable speaking in public to the person she is by the end of the film is enjoyable. Her growth as a person begins with the concern for her son that, as the film progresses, extends to the community at large, once she realizes that many of those in her neighborhood struggle with the same issues and concerns for the children.
There is an undeniable feel-good aspect to this movie as you watch Virginia navigate the political landscape with members of her community, unsure of whether or not they will accomplish their mission, but working together towards a common goal all the same.
They are helped by Congressman Cliff Williams (Matthew Modine) who plays a tired and cynical politician that would rather spend time on a putting green than on the floor of the US House of Representatives. Initially, Modine seems to be in a different movie as he plays the politician with what comes across as the whimsical indifference of Mark Twain or Dr. Who.
While watching the film, there was the ever-present concern that Modine would come off as a white savior, particularly when matched against the political opposition. The fact that Modine’s character appears to be wholly fictitious will likely impact your mileage on that particular issue.
One particularly consistent and nagging problem that the movie had was convenience in the form of place, time and circumstance. An early example of this is when Virginia is attempting to enroll her son in the private school. As they are turned away, his bag flops open, revealing artwork that the principal takes a liking to and prompts her to reveal that there is one spot left for enrollment and that her son can have it. It was an issue that, once noticed, it was difficult to unsee and while it would be an irritation in a fictitious movie that expects you to suspend your disbelief, it’s an eyesore in one that purports to be based on true events.
So, is this a film worth your time? Yes. With stories based on true events, it’s rarely the ending that makes the film worth the price of admission, it’s the journey of getting there. Despite the issues with the script, the primary cast of Aduba, Niles and Modine are able to keep you interested through to the end. Likewise, the supporting cast that makes up the rest of the community, particularly Amirah Vann and Nadji Jeter, are able to make you care about their plight and highlight the disparity of the education system in America that persists today.
Final Grade: B
Miss Virginia stars Uzo Aduba, Matthew Modine, Niles Fitch, Nadji Jeter and Aunjanue Ellis. Directed by R.J. Daniel Hanna and written by Erin O’Connor, it is available on VOD 18 October 2019.
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