Thursday, April 30, 2015

throwback thursday: favorite movie towns

A post from 2009:

movies I'd like to visit, maybe even live there

Hollywood is not really a town, if you've ever visited. Not a town like the small one that some folks come from, or a bigger one, like where I live, here in D.C. But every once in a while Hollywood puts out a movie that takes place in "a small town," just like the ones that we know never really existed, but maybe would like to visit, or at least pretend to live in, for ninety minutes to an hour. And it's clear that the key to the attraction is as much the locals as the remote location.

In Doc Hollywood Michael J. Fox plays his usual smart-ass, this time as a hot-shot doc wanna-be Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who lands smack dab in the middle of the squash capital of the South. After waking to a morning skinny-dipping goddess vision and a pee-in-the-woods mating ritual, he is smitten with the girl, the town and its cast of kooks and so are we. And it's got Woody Harrelson in a good bit part, among others. Anther film with the same small town fish-out-of-water fun is the brilliant Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray reliving a day and getting to know everyone and everything really well until he gets it right. He also is in one of my all-time favorites. What About Bobwhere he takes over Richard Dreyfuss's vacation, family and life ably abetted by some helpful neighbors.

Julia Roberts manages to lure Richard Gere from the Big Apple, or is it the other way around, in Runaway Bride? The Maryland town she is supposed to inhabit is full of a bunch of people you'd want to hang out with. Any town that sports Joan Cusack would be worth looking into. There are strange, unexplained details that make you wonder. What's with all the multiples? There are different sets of twins and triplets in many background scenes. Maybe it's something in the water...Housesitter, directed by Frank Oz, is another small-towns-and-romance-go-great-together movie, where Goldie Hawn insinuates herself into Steve Martin's life after a one-night stand. It's interesting, because we watch her fall in love with his house and his life and his family and (most of) his friends and have to wait impatiently for him to catch up. Oz hits another home run with In and Out, which has Kevin Kline slowly but surely discovering his inner homosexual and learning that everyone in town still loves him as much as we do. The final scene where everyone parties down so that his mother can get the "wedding" she always dreamed of is pure fun. And again, Joan Cusack lives there.

Casablanca is a classic, with the magnificent Bogie and an exotic collection of individuals all trying to escape from something. Wartime and romance are major plot points, but as the credits roll, I am secretly glad that Bogie has decided to stay in Casablanca with Louis and fight the good fight. It sure seems like they're going to have a hell of a time.

There are some other excellent movies that have fascinating small towns that I am glad I only have to visit for a little while, as they would be terrifying to live in full-time. Hitchcock must have been fascinated by small-town America, because he depicts it many times, all to sinister effect. Two of my favorite of his movies, Shadow of a Doubt and The Birds turn the safety and familiarity of living in a place where you know everyone on its head, as one town is hosting a serial killer and the other is besieged by unexplained deadly bird attacks. A holiday classic, It's a Wonderful Life, actually shows a town, that no matter how wonderful some of its inhabitants are, would be a pretty rough place to have to live. I'll pass, thanks.

I don't live in New York any more, but once you have, it never quite leaves you. New York is not a small town, but there have been a few film fantasies that somehow manage to get a sense of the city. Guys and Dolls is a real slice of Broadway history, both musical and depicting the sorts of characters that used to hang out near Times Square. A far cry from the Disney theme park that exists there today. And Marlon Brando sings! The Godfather, Part II is a crime classic, but it also gives a slice of what it meant to be an Italian immigrant in this country, coming through New York. Another fun film set in downtown New York is After Hours, the ultimate trip through SoHo in the 80s with Griffin Dunne being dragged from one bizarre situation to the next. Woody Allen is well-known to be in love with his home town New York and has made movies set in the city many times, but as an ex-new Yorker, I don't really get a strong sense of the city, except as travelogue, in his films. Hannah and Her Sisters is one exception, where the SoHo and downtown sequences seem truly "the city," as Michael Caine tries to seduce Barbara Hershey in bookstores, her partner's painting studio, and on the street.

So whenever big city life gets to be a bit much, I know I can retreat to one of these film oases. Any other favorite film fantasy small towns?


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