The Blues for Willadean is a stagey melodrama about domestic abuse that is presented in a trailer trash way. It stars Beth Grant, Octavia Spencer, Dale Dickey, and David Steen. They are the original cast of Del Shores’ stage play The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, which is where the movie is based on.
Beth Grant plays the titular character Willadean, who is living in fear of verbal and physical abuse from her violent husband J.B. (David Steen). LaSonia (Octavia Spencer) is their next door neighbor in the Texas trailer park.
Rayleen (Dale Dickey) is a newcomer to the neighborhood. She is a trash-talking cocktail waitress at the bar where J.B. is a regular customer. She still wears the skimpiest clothes even if she’s already too old for them. As the movie progresses, we learn that J.B. and Rayleen are having an affair and this leads to a violent conclusion.
Blues for Willadean has a naturalism approach most of the time. There are some musical sequences that feature Debby Holiday as a female blues singer who performs smoky renditions of originals songs. Their lyrics reflect Willadean’s life. But the chorus style device gets old fast.
Aside from Spencer, most of the cast members play their original stage play roles. Their performances feel a bit over-the-top when translated into the big screen. The characters become more tiresome as the movie goes on. The characters are not believable and mere players in the story.
It must also be a bad time to release Blues for Willadean because it is so close to the release of William Friedkin’s screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play Killer Joe, which is also about people from a Texas trailer park. Letts’ play has more believable characters and uses the setting to explore power dynamics as well as other issues of life on the financial outer edge.