In Three Billboards Outside, Ebbing, Missouri, Mildred Hayes (masterfully played Frances McDormand), an angry, grieving single mother with an undercut and coveralls she never takes off, rents three billboards outside town with a message to the local police: "Still No Arrests? How Come, Chief Willoughby?”

The Chief Willoughby Mildred targets is William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), a popular local cop with a secret of his own. Like all the figures in this movie, Willoughby is more complex and less of a stereotype than you might think at first glance. He's the head of a police department where a black man was recently tortured (and which is never really explained in the film) but he's also kindly, sympathetic, and locally beloved. Even Mildred, his cranky nemesis, seems to like the guy... at least as much as she likes anyone, which isn't saying much.

Mildred is the beating heart of Three Billboards, even if her own has gone cold. Seven months after her daughter was raped and murdered, there are still no arrests—thus, the very public, very black and red billboards dotting a country road outside Ebbbing with a message for the cops. Mildred takes increasingly desperate steps to get the police department's attention, but that's not really what the movie is about: It's about small-town America and the complexities of human relationships, both within families and without. It's not an easy movie to classify: Directed by Martin McDonagh, it's a dark, sometimes violent murder mystery, but it's also tragic, and, at times, genuinely comic, with lines that make you look around and think: Did they really just say that?

When Mildred asks the idiot cop Dixon (played convincingly by Sam Rockwell), who has been accused of police brutality: “How’s it going in the n*gger-torturin’ business, Dixon?,” he replies, incensed, “It's people of color-torturin’ business now." Dixon is too dumb to be kidding, but the line received a smattering of nervous laughter at the Saturday matinee in Seattle.

Not long after, much of the theatre would be in tears (don't worry, I won't ruin it for you), and that's the kind of movie Three Billboards is: The kind that makes you laugh, and the kind that makes you cry. Accompanying McDormand, Harrelson, and Rockwell is Peter Dinklange, who plays a used car-dealer named James who comes to Mildred's rescue and gets treated about as well as you'd imagine as a dwarf in the South, and Abercrombie (Clarke Peters, whose most famous role is Lester in The Wire), a police department newcomer who doesn't get as much screen time as an actor of his caliber is worth. There is also a standout performance by Caleb Landry Jones as Red Welby, a billboard salesman whose every emotion is written on his very freckled face.

Ebbing, Missouri, unapologetically redneck, may seem like an impossible backwater to audiences here, but it was sure as shit familiar to me. That's because while Ebbing, Missouri, may be fictional, it's also, quite literally, home. The movie was filmed in Sylva, North Carolina, a tiny little hamlet nestled deep in the Appalachians, about 7 miles from the house where I grew up.

If Sylva (population 2,588), is known for anything, it's the Walmart bombing of 2007, when a man set off a pipe bomb in the camping section of the local bigbox hub, injuring five. Honestly, it's not even known for that. The Walmart doesn't make an appearance in the movie, but Sylva, which was Cherokee territory until the whites arrived, is the kind of place where Walmart moving to town was a very big deal: The day of the grand opening, in 1996, the principal at our school kept us updated over the loudspeaker: "The parking lot is full," I remember him saying. "I repeat, the parking lot is full."

The film mostly takes place in downtown Sylva. Today it's kind of charming, with bars, bakeries, and more than one decent place to eat, but it wasn't like that when I was a kid. It was a typical Appalachian town in a dry county with not much tolerance for non-straights, non-Christians, non-whites, or for change. I don't think I ever saw a city bus until I left.

In the film, you see the library where I grew up reading on hot summer days; the bright hilltop courthouse, which still has a Confederate statue out front. There's Lulu's, which used to be the only decent restaurant in town, and the record shop where I used to buy CDs and incense, and which, much to my shock, looks like it's somehow still open. Even my elementary/middle school makes an appearance (the mascot, both then and now, is the Rebel.) It was wild to see all this on a big screen, and the movie intensely reminded me of home—not just because of the blue skies and rolling green hills but because the characters were so very familiar. I know the movie is fiction, but the locals are Mountain Dew-drinking Trump voters with complex, sometimes conflicted inner lives, and boy, did they make me think of home.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is a good movie for anyone into dark humor. But for those of us who grew up in the Appalachians and live far from home, this is one film you must see. It'll make you miss those deep green hills, and it'll remind you exactly why you left them.

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