Blues for Willadean a triumph of the human spirit.
There are rare movies that move you to tears both by comedy and by tragedy but Blues for Willadean does just that. Adapted from Del Shores' (Sordid Lives, Queer as Folk) stage play The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, Blues for Willadean makes you laugh, cry, get angry, wax nostalgic, and believe in the triumph of the human spirit.
Blues follows the life of Willadean Jenkins, a trailer park housewife played masterfully by famed character actress Beth Grant (No Country for Old Men, Donnie Darko). Willadean is a battered housewife who wants nothing more than to talk to her gay son, John David, who her abusive husband, J.D., disowned. Desperate to be happy and overcome her situation she continues to education herself via her daily dictionary word -of-the-day and watching "her stories" with her only friend and next door neighbor, LaSonia (pronounced lasagna) played by Oscar winning actress, Octavia Spencer (The Help) who provides much comic relief throughout.
Blues is not an easy film to watch at times. In fact, I guarantee you will squirm in your seat and look away from the screen once or twice. However, it is a film everyone needs to see. This issue of domestic violence is not a popular one but its still a civil rights issue that needs its air time. Blues shows domestic violence for what it is—an issue that affects families, friends and communities. There are bruises, fights, broken dishes and dreams but what one needs to hold onto is Willadean's determination to overcome her abuse and her abuser.
Through it all, Willadean's signature line is "I will not shrivel up an die" and she lives this mantra. Occasionally, Willadean sneaks into town to use a pay phone to call her beloved son, John David. No matter the strict Christian values her husband, J.D., absurdly lauds over her, she is determined to love her son and confront him on his cheating ways with fellow trailer park denizen Rayleen, played by Dale Dickey (True Blood). She finally gets the strength to apply for a job over the objections of J.D. and her spirit soars as she is hired on the spot at The Value Village.
She is bolstered throughout by a Blues chorus, ala a Greek chorus, that speaks to the perseverance of her inner spirit and will. The use of the chorus is an interesting device to use off stage but Shores weaves it in seamlessly and it enlivens the story and highlights Willadean's self-actualization journey. Shores' offering also leaves in his trademark camp and southern absurdity seen in Sordid Lives which proves to be the perfect comedic balance the weighty subject matter.
Willadean is a survivor who will not be kept down and this is reason alone for the film to be a must see. It is also a must see because this subject matter needs more air time with everyone. We just observed Domestic Violence month in October but there needs to be awareness everyday and Blues provides a great platform. If it isn't at a theater near you, you should demand it. Search it out on ITunes. Show this film to your sons and daughters, family and friends.
Blues for Willadean was shown as part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge. www.bostonlgbtfilmfest.org
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