When a loved one dies accidentally, you develop tunnel vision. Your mind teems with questions: Was it quick? What were his final thoughts? What if his plans had been different that day? And when a loved one dies by suicide, that tunnel vision becomes a myopia the breadth of a laser that threatens to consume you.
In “Strange Weather,” writer-director Katherine Dieckmann (“Diggers”) explores how people who kill themselves inevitably claim more than one life. It’s a hot and bone-dry September in Georgia when we meet Darcy (Holly Hunter, scrappy as ever), an administrative assistant who would rather spend her time with her dog and her best friend, Byrd (Carrie Coon), than with the man who once proposed to her, Clayton (Kim Coates, “Sons of Anarchy”).
But there’s more to Darcy’s life than we’re initially privy to: When her boss talks to her about having to pay more for her health plan and checks that she has no dependents, she hesitates and even looks a little stunned before shaking her head no.
The revelation that Darcy had a son — Walker, who shot himself at the age of 24 — is disclosed subtly. It’s now seven years later, and the mother’s wound is first prodded by a run-in with Walker’s old friend at the grocery store and then ripped open by a casual remark by Byrd.
Working on fundraising for Walker’s alma mater, Byrd asks Darcy if she’d been friends with a particularly successful alumnus, Mark (Shane Jacobsen, “American Crime”). Quickly, the natural progression of the conversation reveals a major ethical betrayal. And now we’re watching a mama who’s no longer merely grieving but pissed off.
See Strange Weather's latest POWER MOVE.
The bulk of “Strange Weather” is a road trip to New Orleans, with Darcy dragging along a reluctant Byrd. The knowledge that Darcy learns led her to seek out those who were with her son the day he died to nail down specifics, and she decides that an in-person confrontation, with a gun handy, is necessary to quell her demons.
Hunter, her Darcy often wearing a cowboy hat along with a tank top and skinny jeans more often seen on teens, gives a lived-in, down-but-not-out performance throughout, but she particularly shines in two scenes on the road. Darcy’s slick confrontation of her son’s former friend showcases Hunter nearly feral and with teeth bared, and she’s raw and aching during a conversation between Darcy and Byrd in which Byrd reveals a shocking secret of her own and suggests that Darcy saw only the parts of Walker she wanted to see, and perhaps not his depression.
The friendship between the two, along with Byrd’s lover Geri (Andrene Ward-Hammond, “Loving”), is paramount in this story, not the ghost that haunts it. The Bechdel test? An easy win.
There’s also a subtheme of the privileged versus the working class with Darcy and Walker firmly belonging to the latter, a burden that anyone who’s lived it will attest can overwhelm even the pluckiest families. In the end, human decency and resilience are this narrative’s