Dale Dickey and Beth Grant in "Blues for Willadean." (James Weems / Kestral Films )
Writer-director Del Shores adapts his play "The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife" for the screen in "Blues for Willadean" with the cast of the original 2003 stage production including Beth Grant, Dale Dickey, David Steen and (now newly minted Oscar winner) Octavia Spencer.
The story focuses on Grant's character, Willadean, as she struggles to get out from under the thumb of her abusive husband (Steen) with support from a friend and neighbor (Spencer) and the intervention of a new arrival (Dickey).
Shores' use of the phrase "trailer trash" in the title of his original production is instructive: There remains something distanced and slightly camp about the characters and Shores' portrayal of their world that becomes increasingly tiresome as the film moves along. The characters never feel like people, they are always mere functionaries of the story.
It's also perhaps just a stroke of bad timing that this film adaptation hits theaters so closely after the release of William Friedkin's screen version of Tracy Letts' play "Killer Joe," likewise set among the beer-drinkin' denizens of a Texas trailer park and building to an explosion of violence.
Letts' play pushes the characters to be something more than just dopey ciphers, using the low-rent world to explore power dynamics and the deeper issues of life on the financial fringes in ways that Shores simply never approaches.
"Blues for Willadean" plays as one flat, false note after another.
"Blues for Willadean." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. At Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood.