In turns dark and funny, ‘Blues for Willadean’ packs a punch


TRAILER TALK | An abused woman (Beth Grant, left) shares a moment of happiness with her sassy neighbor (Octavia Spencer) in the compelling domestic drama ‘Blues for Willadean.’

It is, perhaps, in poor taste to say a movie about wife-beating packs a punch, but that’s the kind of wincing irony that would probably tickle Del Shores. Shores, our foremost chronicler of the tragedy of white-trash Texas (and how to make it trashier), has a dark sense of humor — one where infidelity, missing limbs, church hypocrisy and pointed zingers occupy the same beer-soaked barroom … or semen-dappled church pew. He does not suffer foolishness gladly, and foolishness takes many forms in his universe.

But his universe is unnervingly real sometimes, as it is in Blues for Willadean, the film adaptation of his play Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife. Willadean is a meek woman, cowed by the brutality of her husband J.D. (David Steen), a trucker who plants his dipstick in the engine of the local cocktail waitress (Dale Dickey) in between backhands to Willie.  Over one monumental weekend, Willa endures horrible humiliation before finding her inner strength.

If it sounds relentlessly dour, you’re only half right: Part of the success of this film —it is a surprising but resounding success — is how effortlessly Shores toggles between the Lifetime Movie horrors of Willie’s efforts to stave off violence and the oxygen-depriving laughs occasioned by Dickey and Octavia Spencer, playing Willie’s saucy next door neighbor LaSonia. “She is trash that will not burn,” LaSonia clucks with hilarious judgment.

If it sounds like an awkward fit, it’s not, especially with this stellar cast of Shores regulars. As everyone knows, the blues are sad … but they are also joyous and full of hope.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 26, 2012.