Our Very Own

Jason Jones

If you're looking for an interesting movie about the South with rich local detail, try Junebug.

Our Very Own

Director: Cameron Watson
Cast: Allison Janney, Cheryl Hines, Jason Ritter, Hilarie Burton, Beth Grant, Keith Carradine, Autumn Reeser
Distributor: Mirimax
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: Mirimax
First date: 2005
US DVD Release Date: 2007-07-03

Our Very Own is really two different movies, both vaguely watchable, but neither of which are very good. The first plot essentially reprises Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael. A small town, in this case Shelbyville, Tennessee, starts bubbling with excitement over the imminent arrival of the one person ever to make it big: Sondra Locke, real-life actress in such movies as The Outlaw Josey Wales and Every Which Way But Loose, and director of such movies as Ratboy. This plot focuses on five teenagers, including Clancy Whitfield (Jason Ritter) and Melora Kendal (Autumn Reeser), and their efforts to attract Ms. Locke's attention and get the hell out of town before dying of boredom.

The second plot is about a family, the Whitfields, rapidly disintegrating under the pressures of the father's unemployment and drunkenness. Keith Carradine plays the drunken father (Billy Whitfield), seemingly helpless to change his life for the better, and Allison Janney plays the noble, long-suffering wife (Joan Whitfield). Janney was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for this role. The plot is pure melodrama, and if it is wholly predictable and trite, Carradine and Janney make it tolerable. One nice moment comes when the Whitfield family's dining room set is about to be repossessed. Janney publicly makes a good show of preserving her dignity and self-respect, but then privately she gouges the table with her diamond ring so that it can't easily be re-sold.

What ties these two plots together (beyond Jason Ritter's Clancy) is Our Very Own's insistent preaching that you should be yourself. The teenagers at the heart of this movie briefly hang all of their dreams of escape on precisely emulating Sondra Locke's career. From their point of view, if Locke doesn't pluck them out of obscurity during this visit, they're doomed to repeat the lives of their parents. (A point reinforced when Joan Whitfield observes at a women's luncheon that everyone she went to high school is still in town.) Likewise, Billy Whitfield's blind pursuit of self-destruction arises, in part, from his concern that he's repeating his brother's life, which ended in alcoholism and suicide.

Our Very Own is being billed as a coming-of-age story, one in which a group of small-town teenagers with big-city dreams discovers that the meaning of their lives isn't the same as Sondra Locke's. But the movie's two plot structure and its confusion of treacle for closure work against the coming-of-age theme. The Whitfield plot can't really be resolved, and so isn't. One day, the bank is coming after the family home; the next, an ostensibly chastened Billy Whitfield gives Clancy spending money for the Tennessee Walking Horse Competition. He doesn't get a job, or win the lottery, or inherit any money- - though he does have a mystical experience in the forest with Mary Badham (appearing in her first movie in nearly 40 years). The movie's inability to treat the family's collapse as anything other than melodrama pulls the rug out from under Janney and Carradine.

The real problem with the movie is in the teenagers' plot, which, oddly enough, has been replaying itself in real life. The Tennessee press about this movie makes for interesting reading: Local reviewers have mostly embraced Cameron Watson's portrait of Shelbyville, and there are feverish articles about the cast's admiration for small-town Southern culture. In other words, these reviewers act exactly like the teenagers in the movie: they suggest that small-town Southern life requires a blessing from a condescending Hollywood in order to be meaningful.

Our Very Own tries hard to show that Shelbyville is a fine place, but there is a kind of structural problem in having Hollywood stars play in a movie about the dreams of small-town kids. The stars' aura implies that the teenaged aspirations are right: you do need to go to Hollywood. Staying in Shelbyville really is failure. And so where a coming-of-age story might be expected to involve some readjustment of dreams, some realization that childhood fantasies don't quite square with adult life, Our Very Own ends up with more or less infantile sentiment.

Watson should probably hope that Southerners don't flock to rent this movie. On the one hand, the sets are terrific. I am from Virginia, with family in Alabama, and I could swear that I visited many of these homes in the '70s. And Beth Grant is, as always, terrific. On the other hand, the representation of Southern life isn't especially accurate. The sociology of the town seems wrong; for example, there are almost no black people.

As ever in the movies, not only do the Southern accents fade in and out, but the actors who can do a Southern accent aren't all doing the same one. Worse, with a couple of exceptions, such as Grant, Watson's directorial notes to his cast on playing Southern appear to have read as follows: "Pretend to be stupid -- no, wait -- stupid with a concussion!" Saddest of all were the local hoodlums, who are supposed to be threatening but who would have a hard time startling a rabbit. The disconnect between the verisimilitude of the sets and the transparently inauthentic performances is jarring.

Fans of Allison Janney, Autumn Reeser, or Jason Ritter will probably find Our Very Own enjoyable. Otherwise, it's eminently missable (and there are no special features to mention). If you're looking for an interesting movie about the South with rich local detail, try Junebug.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.