Review: ‘Strange Weather,’ Starring Holly Hunter, Carrie Coon, and Kim Coates

Holly Hunter is a force of nature. From Broadcast News to The Piano to Top of the Lake to The Big Sick, you can’t keep your eyes off her—this whirlwind of pointed intensity and no-nonsense starkness, an unstoppable combination of self-assuredness and fragility. As the focus of Strange Weather, Hunter is her typical fantastic self, using her committed performance to ground a narrative about a familial tragedy.

The latest from filmmaker Katherine Dieckmann, Strange Weather stars Hunter as 50something Darcy Baylor, an administrative assistant at a Georgia university, the kind of woman who smokes a series of cigarettes as she sneaks outside to water plants in the middle of an 88-day heat wave and who lovingly bickers with her neighbor and coworker Byrd (Carrie Coon) about which one of them will make coffee for the other the next morning. She lives with her dog in a comfortably run-down house; meets up every so often with an ex-lover, Clayton (Kim Coates), who runs the local bar; and drives a gigantic, years-old pickup truck. Darcy is a woman set in her ways, prone to quirkiness and extremely close to the friends she’s had for years in this small rural town.

But little by little, Strange Weather fills in details about Darcy’s story: why she lives alone; why her face freezes for a moment when an HR rep at work asks “You don’t have any dependents, correct?”; why the young man she runs into at a grocery store treats her with a mix of wary familiarity and polite Southern remove. The film eventually moves toward a road-trip format as Darcy decides to drive to Florida to confront someone she believes wronged her family, stopping along the way in places she thought she left behind years ago. “Who said anything about a mission of violence?” Darcy asks Byrd innocently, but when you pack a gun on the way to confront a man, violence is pretty much a guarantee.

So much of the strength of Strange Weather is in Dieckmann’s script, lines of which Hunter chews up, savors the flavor, and spits back out with her rapidfire delivery. The dialogue is a mixture of folksy Southern colloquialism and direct, confrontational questioning, and that dichotomy is Hunter’s sweet spot—she flows easily between charming someone in one breath and then aggressively going after their weaknesses in the next. Her facial expressions are miraculous: What you’ll remember most about Darcy are her quizzical looks when someone shares something about her family that she didn’t know, or how her face will go blank for a moment when she’s caught off-guard before regrouping into defensiveness, or when she tries to blink through tears instead of being overwhelmed by rage and pain. It’s a performance that showcases every great thing Hunter can do, and there are a whole damn lot of them.

She’s supported most by Coon, who has a standout scene toward the end of the film that practically confirms her as Hunter’s successor in gut-wrenchingly honest moments of emotional suffering. And Hunter has a nice chemistry with Coates, who plays a man simultaneously sick of waiting for Darcy’s love and attention and yet unable to give up on a relationship that has clearly developed over years: “You do know it’s my job to protect you from you?” he asks her. After they have sex, Darcy burrows her head into Clayton’s chest, curled up on his body, listening to his heartbeat—and you understand the comfort these two slightly broken people bring each other.

There is an exchange between Darcy and Byrd that captures the ultimate struggle at the heart of Strange Weather: “I do consider myself something of a free spirit,” Darcy says casually to her travel companion, only to have Byrd mutter matter-of-factly, “Nothing of your spirit’s free.” What happens to grief when it remains unresolved? When selfishness as self-preservation loses its appeal? Despite some of its narrative problems—a who-dunnit-structure that falls a little flat, a rushed final act—those are the questions Strange Weather addresses, and they are deeply, almost uncomfortably personal, intensely engrossing, and wholly supported by Hunter’s magnetic performance.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Guttenbergs