Holly Hunter in Strange Weather (Brainstorm Media)

It hasn’t rained her small Southern town in 88 days, and Darcy Baylor’s feeling restless. She gardens at night to avoid the oppressive heat, drinks too much, and fears a layoff at the college where she works. At a deeper level, she can’t run from the aftermath of her promising young son’s suicide. Events mount for her to throw off the silence around the disaster, go on a road trip, and find some answers about his death—and herself. As Darcy, Holly Hunter, in a major star turn, tries to elevate Strange Weather’s paint-by-numbers tale into a moving canvas rich with heart and good intentions. Are those elements there? Yes, but shortcomings in detail and shading keep the picture stubbornly flat.

Poking around the Internet, Darcy comes across what she thinks is the deciding factor in her son’s terrible fate: a trusted childhood friend’s brazen theft of his business plan for a chain of hot dog stands. She’s soon on the highway in her pickup truck, accompanied by a gun in her glovebox and a cool cat, sorta lesbian pal from work (Carrie Coon), headed toward a confrontation whose aim isn’t quite clear. “I just want to look him in the eye. I’m not a planner,” says Darcy.

The looseness of the plot leaves room for lots of meandering conversations intercut with the truck navigating rough roads. A drunken scene with an old buddy lands Darcy a meeting with her son’s tormentor, and a Katrina-lite moment in a flooded town has Darcy reconnecting with a witness by shouting into a crowd. Movies are confused these days about how precisely to reflect the Internet’s total penetration into our lives, and in connecting its characters, the film veers between websites, pay phones, and good old-fashioned coincidences.

Darcy is a loveable cuss we want to root for. She’s dealing with terrible pain and is being forced to handle some unpleasant truths about her and her son’s idealized relationship. But the movie harps on her orneriness too lovingly, puts fawning words in her companions’ mouths (“You’re the wisest, kindest person I know.”), and gives her angry speeches: “What you’re telling me is I was a shitty mother. Just say it then, that I was shitty and selfish and was a shitty mother, that I let my son slip through my fingers, and I couldn’t see what was wrong with him even though it was staring me in the face!”

Local detail and relaxed road scenes give the movie some room to breathe amid the theatrics. Good acting helps, too. Kim Coates radiates world-weary charisma as Darcy’s patient boyfriend, and Coon offers up a chill counterpart to her high-strung seatmate until the revelation of a rather soap opera–ish secret shatters her composure. Hunter is a fearless, watchable powerhouse, raging and woebegone at once as Darcy passes through different stages of grief. Director Katherine Dieckmann may have allowed the star to make a rookie mistake, though; Hunter starts out on such a high-strung plane that there isn’t much room for a dramatic shift upward in her showdown with her son’s bully.

Just as we would like to see Darcy achieve the peace she needs, it would be great to cheer on a woman-centered, touching drama all about facing a painful blow. Strange Weather contains worthy elements, but it lacks the catalyst to combine them all into something as strong and moving as the film wants to be.

Written and Directed by Katherine Dieckmann
Released by Brainstorm Media
USA. 91 min. Rated R
With Holly Hunter, Carrie Coon, Kim Coates, Glenne Headly, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Turner Crumbley, Walker Babington, Shane Jacobsen, and Craig Boe