THE GLITCH… a gritty fable about finding our angels.
Gabriella Birney was blessed with the voice of an angel. Growing up poor in Mississippi, she sang solos in the church choir from early on. People compared her gift to Eva Cassidy’s. Like Eva, there was a shadow over Gabriella’s life. At 18, Gabby got pregnant and ran away to Texas, where she raised her son Danny in a series of homeless shelters. Eventually she found steady work on a low-rent Mississippi River boat casino, dealing cards and from time to time, singing.
Billy Dixon, a brilliant blues player fighting demons and addictions (and losing) was playing the casino lounges along the River when they met. Nineteen year-old Gabriella fell under his dark spell; Billy
promised they would be famous. Their living hell ended in a Memphis recording studio, where Billy beat the crap out of Gabby and took off. She did some things she shouldn’t, to make rent and feed her son. Gabby’s “luck” ran out; she was caught and sentenced to two years at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility for check kiting. Danny went into foster care.
OUR FILM BEGINS…
It’s a year after Gabriella’s release from prison; she’s changed her name to Ella Dolan.
Working as an itinerant waitress, she and Danny have been criss-crossing the deep South, staying in obscure towns, searching for a safe place to start over. Ella feels her time has passed (and she blew it), but Danny’s artistic career has yet to begin. Nothing matters more to her than staying away from the world of music and devils like Billy, and providing that break for her son. They’ve settled for the time being in Lachepas, a quaint little town with a big heart in Louisiana.
Today, on this hot Louisiana afternoon, a letter’s arrived with great and scary news – Danny’s been accepted into a six-week summer program for promising young architects in Chicago. Ella’s got to come up with $5,000 in a month to hold his spot.
Earlier, at work, Ella overheard Parish D.A. Rhett Rabelais (40) and Police Chief Bud Hebert (63) discussing their weekly (secret) poker game and search for a venue with Chubby, the easygoing Cajun who runs “Chubby’s Cajun Cafe.” “I’ll host,” she offered, casually. They accepted.
Tonight as Ella prepares her shabby trailer for the poker game, she sings along to the radio. Her voice is raw, gorgeous. In the living room, Danny switches channels, frustrated. Their old TV is dark, except for a small iridescent form pulsing in the middle. He turns off the set and takes out the trash.
Tab Theriot (40) the town playboy and owner/publisher of the Lachepas Ledger, pulls up in his 507 BMW. He’s immediately enchanted by the sound of Ella’s voice, and when she appears, her wild beauty and sensuality. He even likes her off-hand attitude. She’s not impressed that the Golden Boy of Lachepas thinks she’s cute. She’s got a card game to run.
No, she says, with an edge, she’s not a singer.
Meanwhile, in a bad, darkened motel room, a man with a caved-in face and fierce eyes plays his guitar, and sings his blues lament.
A little later, Ella’s all business as she plays poker with Tab, D.A. Rabelais, Chief Bud, and her boss, Chubby. On her counter-top TV, they watch D.A. Rabelais, (who is running for Mayor) vow to rid the town of “questionable charities.” His poker pals tease and mock him. After Ella accidentally spills a drink on his linen suit, beats him at poker and collects a nice pile of winnings, he leaves in a huff. But, all the rest of the guys (especially Tab) are eager to return.
Later, Ella counts $300 in winnings, a great start for Danny’s Chicago fund. However, he’s disgusted and fearful; he saw her switch decks on Rabelais. Cheating isn’t worth it and she can’t make enough to cover the tuition, and he wants her to stop. Ella can’t and won’t. She’s vowed to get that money together for his future. She owes it to him.
The next morning, Danny bangs on the TV to get rid of the electronic glitch. His friend Therese observes with a giggle, that it kinda looks like an angel. Ella reluctantly gives Danny permission to call the repairman. She also sends Therese over to her maw maw’s (grandmother) to see if there’s any problems on her TV set. Maybe there’s bad weather somewhere. Next door, Marie and five elderly ladies – a gospel group called “The Harmony Queens” – are making crawfish pie and singing a simple, beautiful call and response. Missus Riva, Evangeline, Glenora, Marguerite and the fragile Miss Amie all brighten when Marie announces that Therese has seen an angel on Ella’s TV set!
Over at Ella’s, the cranky TV repairman Al Landers declares he “can’t fix it” and demands his $100 for house call. As Danny pays the bill with Ella’s winnings, a heated dispute arises. Not only does Ella swear at the uber-religious repairman, she accuses Al of taking advantage of them. He stomps out, passing the Harmony Queens, all excited to see the Angel on Ella’s TV. This enrages him. Al shouts, “ God’s messengers don’t come forth as Saturday morning entertainment!” Ella brushes him off and invites the old gals inside.
The Queens settle in front of the set, mesmerized by the undulating, phosphorescent glitch. Marie asks for permission to stay and pray to the Angel. Ella thinks it’s a nutty idea, but relents. One Queen makes an phone call to her sister, who’s getting her hair done at “Treasured Looks,” to tell her she’s praying for her in front of the Angel! The Lachepas postal carrier happens to be there.
The news quickly spreads in the little town. Ella’s living room is soon crowded with local folk peering at the glitch. Even Tab Theriot arrives, with Randy Babineaux, his cub reporter from the paper. Ella’s secretly happy to see Tab. They flirt.
Their attention shifts when the crippled ninety year-old Miss Amie, guided by Marie, takes steps without her walker to the “Angel” and even does a little Cajun two-set. People are ecstatic and tearful. Danny’s astonishment is tempered by his mother’s cynical take that there’s no miracle here, just a psychosomatic healing. Happens all the time.
That night, Ella’s taking stock out in her back yard when Marie comes over with crawfish pie and a request for Ella to host another showing. Ella refuses, but changes her mind when Marie hands her a fistful of cash. The Queens took up a collection for The Angel Lady. Marie figures the only problem is Ella’s faith. She has to believe that the Angel appears for her, too.
Faith or no faith, Ella takes to the role of “The Angel Lady” with zeal. She and the Queens even start merchandising small items like key chains and t-shirts and beer koozies. Ella is making the money she desperately needs for Danny’s school. Sure enough, as more folks forego church to sit in front of the glitch, the opposition to The Angel Lady builds.
D.A. Rabelais is all too willing to pick up the sword of justice and attack the demonic Angel Lady to get elected Mayor of Lachepas. He launches a public campaign to investigate the Angel Lady and her devilish business. Ella is forced to respond on camera and fight for the right of folks to pray wherever they see fit. She’s got to see this thing through, long enough to get the tuition raised for Chicago. However, Danny’s coming under increasingly violent harassment at school. He wants to give the tv set away so the crazy crowds with their healing fever will go somewhere else.
Danny dreads that, now Ella’s in the paper and on TV, Billy will find them.
He has. Billy Dixon’s caught a glimpse of Ella on the news, as he plays at some backwater dive. He shows up at the trailer late one night. Ella’s in the shower. Danny opens the door, realizing too late that it’s Billy. He flashes back to the last time he saw Billy, beating up his mom at the studio. He’s a helpless, frightened kid all over again. Ella comes out of the shower, Danny runs out.
Suddenly it’s just Ella and Billy. In his whacked-out, sorrowful way, he tells her he still loves her, begs for forgiveness and figures, since she’s the Angel Lady, she’ll give it to him. Forgiveness, and a second chance. That’s all he’s asking. He relaxes by doing a couple lines, and outlines his plan; sell the TV Angel/Glitch to this megachurch pastor in Arkansas, who’ll give `em enough to get back on the road and revive the glory days. He starts to sing one of their old songs.
Ella plays along with his psychotic rant until she can reach the handgun he set aside. With the barrel to his temple, she threatens to kill him if he doesn’t leave them alone. She drills bullet holes into the fin of his caddy as he peels away. Suddenly she snaps out of her rage and tosses the gun, scared and regretting she lost control. Too late. Danny’s run away. Billy’s out there.
Ella drafts Tab into helping her search, without giving the real details. He’s happy to help, to be near her. Because, although Tab has positioned the Editor of the paper as a wry observer of the Angel phenomena, he’s fallen in love with the Angel Lady. Tab is truly shocked, when, out of her mind with worry and frustration, Ella confesses that the Angel was made up. He never imagined she was a fraud; he believed she believed. Ella swears to tell him everything, and confesses that she cheated him at poker. But she doesn’t tell Tab about the bad old lover she nearly blew away, because Chief calls with the good news that they picked up Danny out on the highway.
Danny refuses to return home to his mother’s house. He’s sick of the chaos, and elects to stay at Tab’s home until the TV Angel is gone. Ella has no choice but to give in. Her heart is breaking. Her plan to get to Chicago to start Danny on a new, better path has gone horribly awry.
Her troubles are about to explode.
Billy has taken his revenge by telling D.A. Rabelais that he saw a drug kit at the home of The Angel Lady, aka ex-con, Gabriella Birney. Chief Bud and the Lachepas police conduct a raid and Ella is tossed into jail. An angry Tab posts bail. Ella can’t talk to him about Billy, he doesn’t want to hear it.
This is a new ring in Hell for Ella. The Angel Lady’s fallen from grace, her TV’s been confiscated with the coffee can full of Danny’s tuition money. And Billy’s still out there.
Strangely, D.A. Rabelais shows up at her trailer to offer Ella a deal. He drop the drug charges if Ella will announce to the world that the Angel is a sham, give up the TV, and promptly leave Lachepas. (The D.A. is in a pickle. Billy just informed him that the drugs the police found at Ella’s were not hers, but his. Rabelais can buy Billy’s continued co-operation, if he if he gives him the TV.) Ella tells Rabelais she’ll think about it. “Don’t take too much time. You’ve got a court appearance tomorrow morning.”
It’s night and it’s starting to storm, but Ella’s on the move. She packs a suitcase and her secret stash of cash. Across town, Tab and Danny discuss with Chief Bud the likelihood that bad Billy left the drugs at the house. Danny defends his mother’s decision not to tell her new friends about her raggedy past. Will they judge her, as she feared, or help her?
Ella, clearly upset, walks over in the rain to Marie’s, where the Harmony Queens are baking and singing. They’re holding a bake sale to help pay Ella’s attorney fees. Ella takes Marie aside to hand her the cash to repay Tab, who posted bail. Ella’s plan is to get out of town, set up somewhere, and send for Danny, as soon as possible. Marie begs Ella to stay and to face her demons, but Ella’s in a quandary. If she does what the D.A. asks, and confesses that the TV Angel is a fake, what happens to people like Miss Amie, who believe the Angel brought her a miracle? Ella can’t, won’t do it.
Miss Marie pushes open the door to her bedroom and reveals Ella’s TV, sitting on a child’d red wagon. “Ask your Angel.” Fortunately, Marie had a feeling that the bad guy in the Cadillac might return when Ella was out looking for Danny, so she switched TVs. It’s Marie’s TV sitting in the evidence locker at the police station. Marie is jubilant but Ella, stonefaced, thanks her dear old neighbor and walks out, rolling the Angel TV behind her. She headed for that pastor with the megachurch in Arkansas who wants the Angel. Ella can cash in, and get Danny to Chicago.
As Ella drives through the bayou, miles away from Lachepas and any civilization, the storm intensifies. She loses control of her truck and plunges into a ditch. The TV comes loose from its moorings and pins her down. Ella can’t move anything but her lips. Finally, she asks for help, even though it’s clearly too late. Then, she blacks out.
Ella awakes to a bright white light pouring through the passenger window. It’s Marie, who energetically lifts off the TV and advises Ella that she has “all the tools she needs to save herself.” And wouldn’t you know, Ella’s broken tow cable is working! They manage to pull her truck back onto the road. Whereas before, Ella couldn’t believe that the TV Angel was real, now, she wants to believe. There must be miracles if her tow chain held and Marie found her!
It’s a bitter shock when Ella tests the TV and the Three Stooges comes on. Marie consoles her, “Maybe that glitch was not the Angel after all. Maybe we are Angels to each other. Maybe the miracle is that you asked for help. Because of that, I found you.” Ella understands that what was missing in her life was faith that miracles are possible in her life, too. Her gratitude is boundless. “What can I possibly do to repay you?” Marie responds, “Sing! Sing for me, sing for the people, sing for the world!” Then she drives off, late for choir practice.
Dawn. Ella wakes up, bruised and bloodied, in the cab of her truck, in the middle of the road. The TV, showing “The Three Stooges,” sits on the seat next to her.
She turns her truck back toward Lachepas and hits the gas.
At the Lachepas courthouse, where the “disgraced” Angel lady is scheduled to appear, all kinds of shenanigans are going on. D.A. Rabelais is in the evidence room, making secret arrangements to hand over Miss Marie’s TV to Billy when he arrives. Tab and the Chief catch wind of this, so they arrange to haul the TV up to the police lab for “fingerprinting” before Billy shows up. Billy shows up, drunk and irate that he’s not walking out with the Angel TV.
Tab turns on his hidden tape recorder and, posing as an assistant to Rabelais, tries to convince Billy they need him to plant more dope before he gets the Angel TV. Billy’s not playing.
The courtroom is packed full of Angel Lady supporters and detractors. The Harmony Queens are all there, except for Miss Marie. Ella has yet to appear, her public defender’s worried. Just as the Judge is about to issue a warrant for her arrest, she shows up, strangely triumphant, a bloodied and bruised sight to behold. Danny is tremendously relieved; her supporters are thrilled.
Ella launches into a wild confession – yes, she was guilty of conning people with the TV Angel, but now she realizes that the glitch inspired people to have faith. And because of faith, miracles can occur. And thanks to Miss Marie, that’s what Ella understands that it’s all about. It’s important what we believe. Cheered by her supporters, Ella then defend herself against the drug charges. Chaos erupts in the courtroom as her detractors shout insults and her supporters fire back.
Elsewhere in the building, Tab manages to dupe Billy into confessing that he set Ella up. There’s a fist fight, that Tab wins. In the courtroom, just as Ella is about to be arrested for contempt, Tab bursts in with the recorded evidence to expose District Attorney Rabelais’ culpability. Behind him, Chief Bud drags a bedraggled, handcuffed Billy. The case is dismissed. D.A. Rabelais is arrested. The crowd goes wild.
Moments later, Ella finds out from Miss Marie’s grieving friends that the dear woman died of a heart attack immediately after Ella left town… hours before she appeared to Ella on the back bayou road.
An astonished, tearful smile spreads across Ella’s face.
The last scene is a home-grown concert, where re-elected Mayor Roux introduces “Ella and the Harmony Queens” to hundreds of people. Our Ella comes out on stage, her soul and brilliance on fire. She spreads her arms in the light and looks just like an angel.