YOU USED TO know you were in the Deep South when you passed an old house on 20 miles of bad road outside of Macon, Georgia, heading for Valdosta on a rainy night, and someone peered out of a window with the barrel of a Hawken rifle in sight.

These days, it’s changed considerably. A good movie about the South now is when you’ve got two women in an old pickup truck and a leather bag with a six-gun in it holding one bullet.

“Strange Weather” is that kind of movie.

What we’ve got here are two reasonably well-educated women heading for New Orleans to right a wrong, or so they think.

Writer-director Katherine Dieckmann’s 2016 movie starring the irrepressible Holly Hunter and the haunting Carrie Coon begins in a drought-stricken garden on a hot Georgia night. Darcy Baylor (Hunter) is engaged in illegal water use and having a cigarette with her neighbor, Byrd (Carrie Coon).

Both Darcy and Byrd are Georgia University administrative assistants, old friends and sharers of old stories and pain.

Bit by bit, the story unfolds about Darcy’s 20-something son, a former college student, who put a gun to his head some seven years ago after a party with buddies and left Darcy with a “why” that won’t go away.

Darcy has kept the gun packed away, but don’t be surprised to see it make a curtain call.

In a telephone call to another friend, Darcy learns that one of the college buddies, Mark Wright (a very good Shane Jacobsen), is a big, old rich “Bubba” down in Louisiana. Apparently while in school, he came up with a business plan that evolved into a company called “Dawg House-Hot Dogs,” a kind of do it yourself KFC chain that made him rich.

Well, wouldn’t you know, that plan was word for word, dog for dog, the plan Darcy’s son had talked about. Sure, her friends tell her, that’s the American way. Darcy’s son talked a good idea, but did nothing with it, while good old Mark did. Nothing to be done about it.

Darcy disagrees. She takes a break from her job, one that is a jog away from being phased out, packs a bag and persuades Byrd to go with her.

“For what?” Byrd asks.

“Just to talk,” Darcy insists, and to find out what happened that night after the bourbon shots and cocaine-laced party.

Before she heads out, Darcy has conversations with other boys that were there that night. Everyone seems reluctant to unpack any details, but their averted eyes and nervous coughs only fuel Darcy’s suspicions that a cover-up is afoot.

The ride south with Byrd and a stop-over in Meridian, Georgia, where they have a hair-down, girlie guzzle with fun-loving childhood girlfriend Mary Lou (Glenne Headly), is a soft spot in the film.

In the last 15 minutes, the humidity does rise when Darcy confronts white-shoed “Dawg House” Mark in his Trumpian downtown tower. The back-and-forth dances between denials and admissions, and then that suicide gun makes an appearance.

Dieckmann handles this important scene with grace and guts.

An important moment pops up with an in-truck clash between Darcy and Byrd that opens up a bag of old secrets that provide some needed insights that should have come sooner.

The cast is beyond perfect. Hunter, always great, with her workout 60-year-old, going-on-40 physique, crinkly eyes and rattler-hissing closeups, never lets us go away, nor do we want to.

Carrie Coon smokes up every scene and closeup she’s involved in. From “The Leftovers” to “Gone Girl” and “Fargo,” it’s hard to look away from her in any scene.

Kim Coates, as Darcy’s off and on, solid-guy bar owner, is a veteran of 40 films, and it shows. He radiates warmth and comfort but with a dark edge. Coates is probably best known as “Tig” Trager in “Sons of Anarchy.”

Writer-director Katherine Dieckmann is a pro. She knows how to pack and unpack a scene, elevate tension at precisely the right moment, and gives the grits just the right amount of sugar.

It’s important to note that at least three quarters of the important hands on deck in the making of this excellent film are women.

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.

filed under: