Virginia (Uzo Aduba) is a single mother who is watching her son James slips away. School is a place where trying only flags the attention of bullies, so flying under the radar is necessary for survival. The streets and their easy money call to James (Niles Fitch) while his school turns its back on him, unwilling and unable to teach. Virginia knows the only way to keep him safe is to get him an education, and despite his failing grades, James is quite bright, but tuition at a private school is out of reach.
Virginia takes a second job scrubbing toilets for her local representative but still has to pull James out of private school when two low-paying jobs still don’t pay the bills. She’s disillusioned to find that her representative (Aunjanue Ellis) only pays lip service to education, but it spurs her to find someone who will actually help, and after some prodding and some golf-shaming, she finds it in congressman Cliff Williams (Matthew Modine) who takes up her cause and helps her get a bill before congress.
Based on a true story, Miss Virginia is superficially a testament to iron will and persistence, but it’s also a reminder of just how dismally many people in so-called democracies are actually represented by elected and appointed officials. You shouldn’t have to fight this hard to get your government to do what’s right. It shouldn’t take children riddled with bullets to understand that something’s not right. And the moment schools stop teaching should obviously be a huge red flag. And yet there are still lots of students who are underserved and left behind, and it’s all but impossible for anyone to escape the clutches of poverty without a solid education.
As a movie, Miss Virginia is a little pat, a little paint by numbers. It tells its story in a straight-forward, unexciting manner. The beats, by now, are familiar. Since the actual elected officials don’t give a flying fuck, and are very much content to cash generous paycheques in exchange for sitting on their asses and letting lobbyists pay for lunches or luxury vacations to buy their votes, it takes a concerned and devoted citizen to dedicate their lives to a cause. And even then it’s an uphill battle: government isn’t exactly friendly to outsiders. We’ve seen it countless times because that’s the only way things ever change. Politicians do jack shit and single mothers with two minimum wage jobs have to carve out spare time they don’t have to be congressional super heroes.
Movies love women who take on the man: Erin Brockovich, Loving, The Long Walk Home, The Whistleblower, Ghosts of Mississippi, The Best of Enemies, North Country, Silkwood, Norma Rae. I get it. They’re inspiring. And since we owe these women (and certainly many men: see Philadelphia, Michael Clayton, Selma) a debt of gratitude, their stories are worth remembering and recounting. But it’s also depressing to know that it takes a citizen turned super hero – someone not only willing to stick their neck out, but to literally risk it at times – to get issues noticed let alone fixed. That ordinary people have to do a politician’s job for them – and fight the politician who’s against anyone doing anything! Maybe we need to be making more movies about how democracy works so voters know what they SHOULD be able to expect from their representatives, and then hold our officials to these standards. If we keep voting for the status quo, that’s exactly what we’re going to get. We shouldn’t need the Virginias of the world to sacrifice their lives to have the government take care of its people when we pay politicians to do that very thing.