Quirky family dramedy. This was a very interesting film that left me thinking for a few days. A New Yorker guy, George, visits his Southern home town family when his girlfriend, Madeline, discovers a rural artist out in that area. What we discover very quickly is that George’s family is an uneducated dysfunctional band of hicks, and George has been avoiding them for a long time because he has citified and become “civilized.”
Okay, so what I found so interesting about this movie is that it had a certain ambiguity to it that defied clichés. Oh sure, the southerners are uneducated, parochial, and simple-minded, as well as a tad bit of religious bigotry. Stereotypes on one hand. But what I found intriguing was that they also had a very strange sense of warmness, community and appreciation of life that lacked in George, his city girlfriend and the other city people. It seemed very clear that they were more authentic humans than George and Madeline.
Madeline, it turns out is the curator of an art gallery that discovers “outsider art,” that is, primitivist works of people in cultural ghettos who have no clue of the “real world.” In fact, what she really is is an exploiter of crazy people. Displaying their works and making money off them as freak show acts. The artist she discovers in George’s old home town is a whacky Ex-Confederate who is an anti-semite and paints crazy little Heironymous Bosch like pictures of the Civil War. Well, it seemed clear to me that Madeline was not much better in that she lacked humanity in turning people into objects of exploitation without their awareness of it. A condescending bigot who subverts people without them knowing it, rather than display her sin on her sleeve, like they did. And she had no qualms about it. Whereas, these bickering, dysfunctional illiterate southerners would actually treat her with compassion and genuine affection, as well as have moments of true human connection, standing around a church banquet hall singing, an old Christian hymn. Their imperfect connected humanity versus her alienated modernity.
And it’s interesting that the hymn George sings in the banquet hall surprises Madeline, illustrating his effective suppression of his religious heritage in his world of modernity. But the song is “Calling, oh, sinner come home.” So there is a real tension here within a man who struggle with his past, a past that is both dark in places, but also very light and warm, thus defying easy answers or cliché damnings. Who is worse, the uneducated sister-in-law, Ashley, who doesn’t have a clue about the “real world” outside her home town, but patiently naively tells her explosive tempered husband that Jesus loves him as he is, but wants him to change, the simple-minded Ashley who is genuinely loving toward Madeline who she considers superior to herself – or the cold and calculated Madeline, who condescends to Ashley, and can do nothing of genuine human connection. Even her sex with George seems to be just sex without ultimate connection. And George seeks to leave as soon as possible, so when he does at the end, he declares he’s glad to finally get out of there. Yet he does this right after an incident where Madeline chooses her career opportunity of visiting the artist over visiting the sick Ashley in the hospital who loses her newborn child. This heartless humanless choice of Madeline’s disappoints George for the moment when says that he’d rather stay with Ashley, with family, cause family is important, but then he gets in the car afterward and drives away with Madeline, grateful to get out of there, satisfied to be with her instead. It’s as if he did not learn his lesson at all. As I say, no simple black and white easy answers, but very thoughtful and rich in humanity was this story. If only grace had invaded it with redemption.