Directed by R.J. Daniel Hanna and written by Erin O’Connor, a struggling inner-city mother sacrifices everything to give her son a good education. Unwilling to allow her son to stay in a dangerous school, she launches a movement that could save his future – and that of thousands like him. Starring: Uzo Aduba, Matthew Modine, Aunjanue Ellis, Vanessa Williams, Adina Porter, Niles Fitch, Amirah Vann and Nadji Jeter.
You can’t go wrong with casting Uzo Aduba, she has such a strong, natural presence that’s especially suited to a role such as this and she’s undoubtedly the best thing that this film has going for it. Without an actress as talented as Aduba, this film wouldn’t even get off the ground, it’s her immediate charisma and personality that brings it together. She brings a sincere depth to Virginia, the way that she portrays the struggles that she has to endure to make a better future for her son is humbling and heartfelt. It’s brought through quite clearly what type of a woman Virginia Walden is, the dedication, motivation and unrelenting force that she put to work during that time of her life and many years since.
There’s some great support in the form of Aunjanue Ellis, Matthew Modine and Niles Fitch but the most surprising performance of the film comes from Nadji Jeter. Viewers might not immediately recognise him but the voice may sound familiar as he voices Miles Morales in the recent Spider-Man games. He doesn’t get a huge chunk of time but he brings a great deal of complexity to such a woefully misunderstood character, he’s unexpectedly more compelling than the performance of Fitch as Virginia’s son James. However, this is in no part due to Fitch’s performance, it’s solid but the writing completely undercuts any importance he can have to the story other than to kick off Virginia’s mission. Ellis provides yet another force to be reckoned with, she’s dependably brilliant and is a perfect opposition to Aduba’s Virginia. Modine is a bit of a caricature of a character but he adds a little levity to the film, although in one of his most powerful moments it’s slightly difficult to take him seriously because of his ridiculous hairstyle, whether this was a choice to reflect the real person or not, it was not well thought out.
One of the problems that the film has is inconsistency, particularly in reflecting a mother-son relationship, firstly a lot of it takes place with them not even sharing the screen and secondly, there’s just no tangible connection established between them. It jumps in so quickly that there’s no way to truly tell what their relationship was like prior to the events and that reverberates through the film and really undermines that aspect of the story. Similarly, with James’ character, they simultaneously try to portray him as a delinquent type and a talented, shy student, starting off with him repeatedly skipping school but giving no explanation as to why or who with. When he’s then lured into the world of drugs by the expensive sneakers and money, it simply isn’t convincing and doesn’t feel as if it follows a natural or logical flow to events. There’s also inconsistency when it comes to their attempts to make out that Virginia has a fear of public speaking which she mysteriously quickly gets over then makes a reappearance when it can serve a function in the plot, it was just unnecessary to include if it wasn’t going to be followed through. All these smaller issues are a sign of a larger weakness that can’t be ignored.
The direction, writing and editing are all feeding into the largest problem that the film has, it does not have the weight or depth to pull off this story in a style that would do true justice to Virginia’s plight. The style that they use is much too light and unfortunately not too many steps above a lifetime movie, it just can’t seem to grasp the importance of the story that it’s telling. It’s overall quality is too shallow, especially in its more emotional moments, the choices in direction and editing only weaken them and make them feel predictable and even cliched. It didn’t necessarily need to get all grim and gritty with the story but there was a real missed opportunity to add tension and a forceful tone, unfortunately it has its rose coloured glasses on.
Miss Virginia tells a story worth telling, of an inspirational woman and her vital efforts to improve children’s education, lives and futures but sadly, doesn’t do it justice. The filmmakers can’t seem to get a grasp on the importance of this story, telling it in a much lighter tone which lacks the necessary depth to really bring its significance through. Aduba gives a fantastic performance and she’s effortless to watch, easily drawing you into Virginia’s mission but even she can’t take this film to where it needed to go. It’s worth watching as many will not be aware of the true story behind it but disappointing that it let down the sincerity and powerful emotions that it could have offered.