From Orange Is the New Black to Mrs America, Uzo Aduba has graced some of the finest series of recent years. It’s ironic, then, that a film in which she plays the title role is the most “televisual” of the lot, closer in tone to a lightweight TV movie than a prestigious drama deserving of her talents. The true story follows a single mother (Aduba) who, unable to afford her son’s private school fees, advocates for federally funded scholarships in Washington DC.
This very specific piece of legislation is insufficiently examined by Erin O’Connor’s screenplay, which goes through the usual motions without taking seriously the implications of perpetuating a two-tier education system. After finding a dossier in a waste paper basket (one of many moments that make the real events seem oddly fictional), Virginia uncovers a gross misallocation of public school funding, the precise nature of which is never explained, thus making it hard to follow the movie’s reasoning.
The flatter the stone, the further it skims along the surface, and Miss Virginia appears uninterested in detail or depth. The most convincing reason to watch the film rather than read the Wikipedia article is Aduba’s performance as the relatable and inspiring protagonist. The other characters and story beats feel cartoony (at one point she breaks a piggy bank with a hammer), including a comic-relief congressman (Matthew Modine) whose dialogue sounds straight out of The Simpsons: “I like golf, but what I’m really good at? Legislation.”
O’Connor’s approach is more measured than much of the socially-minded high school sub-genre (One Eight Seven, The Basketball Diaries), but compared to the political substance and detail fixation of Mrs America, Miss Virginia can’t help but feel small.
Miss Virginia is released digitally on demand on 5th October 2020.
Watch the trailer for Miss Virginia here: