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February 9, 2016

We all have a home town. If we’re lucky, the feelings and memories of that place brings back some measure of peace in our crazy lives. And every once in a while, a film comes along that brings back the memories, and then adds that potent dose of conflict, and adds up to a happy, feel good movie. As sweet and as warm as those summer days before the world descended on us with its trials and tribulations and all its craziness, “Big Stone Gap” is the story of a town and how this town is thrown spectacularly off course by the release of a long buried secret.

It’s 1978. Ava Marian Mulligan (Ashley Judd) leads a simple life. (Yes the name is perfectly and religiously named.) She lives with her mother, runs the local pharmacy, directs local productions and hopes that her best friend will take their platonic relationship in, shall we say, a different, perhaps romantic, direction. She’s turning 40 and the town’s self-proclaimed “old maid” of Big Stone Gap knows something must be done.

More than just a chick flick, and with a cast that including Whoopi Goldberg, John Benjamin Hickey, Jane Krakowski and Anthony LaPaglia, this love letter to home town life is a real winner. The film dances around a melodramatic storyline involving the death of Ave Maria’s mother and the revelation of a parentage secret, but the heart of its soul is the flirtatious, teasing romance between Ave Marie and Jack, the town’s hunky coal miner, so marvelously twanged by Patrick Wilson.

The funniest subplot involves the town’s annual production of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pines,” which Ave Maria is directing. It’s an actual local tradition and major tourist attraction, and the real-life visit of then-senatorial candidate John Warner and his celebrity wife, Elizabeth Taylor (here only seen from the back), with La Liz having to be rushed to the hospital after choking on a fried chicken bone. The two-inch bone lodged in her esophagus, and yes, it really happened just as the actress was complimenting the chef of Fraley’s Coach House in Big Stone Gap.

Directed, written by and adapted from the novel by Adriana Trigiani (think “The Crosby Show”), Adriana has finally, after just writing too long for TV, finally has a piece with which she’s in complete control. And, hopefully, she will give us lots more that will savor without choking.