Freeze Frame

Forget Fargo and A Simple Plan: A quarter-century ago, The Heartbreak Kid had Minnesota down cold

So perhaps the story of The Heartbreak Kid at the quarter-century mark is one of a trinity of salesmen, each peddling his own mix of fantasy and reality: Randy Adamsick sells Minnesota as terra incognita to his Hollywood clients, with the help of fictions like Fargo; Tim Browne sold the image of himself as a big, blond, blank slate before going on to profit from the marketing of other movies; and Lenny Cantrow sells out his wife and heritage for the Dream Girl and a chance to make a killing in the heartland.

If there isn't a fourth salesman here, it's because she's a woman. Pretending to deliver a beauty contest, albeit framed by a (lively) Jewish wedding and a (stifling) Episcopal one, Elaine May created, among other things, an allegory of what the "out-of-town" artist would face peddling her wares in Middle America--a place where Cybill Shepherd would be top-billed for an eye-candy role as the Other Woman, while Jeannie Berlin would be rewarded for her fearless performance with a quick descent into cinematic obscurity. In The Heartbreak Kid, the answer to the question "How will it play in Peoria?" is that a devastating portrait of the hero's deracination and attendant "opportunity" might vaguely resemble a happy ending. May gives this final scene an added charge through her improvised shooting style, in which the WASPs' slightly askance stares and the camera's sudden swish-pans serve as the perfect representation of the disorienting vibe known as Nice. Which is to say that, in the end, The Heartbreak Kid defines Minnesota by not knowing quite what to make of it. CP

Cold Cuts

Dan Picasso

A half-dozen rarities from the frozen state

FOOLIN' AROUND Partially filmed on the University of Minnesota campus, this love-triangle comedy from 1980 resembles The Heartbreak Kid in some ways--quality not being one of them. The poor, aspiring boyfriend here is Wes (Gary Busey), a buck-toothed Okie hick who heads north for an architecture degree and gets stuck on Susan Carlson (Annette O'Toole), a redheaded rich girl with a snooty fiancée (John Calvin) and a family mansion on Lake Minnetonka. Interestingly, Eddie Albert appears in a role that's the inverse of his coldhearted daddy in Kid: Here, he plays the love interest's kind ol' grandpa, who encourages the working-class hero on his quest to earn Susan's hand. As the slapstick is lame, the highlights are the locations, which include St. Anthony Falls, the old Met Stadium, and St. John's Basilica, where the hang-gliding Wes crashes in a bid to stop his sweetheart's wedding (shades of The Graduate). Keep your eyes peeled for a very young-looking William H. Macy (Fargo) as a preppy Minnesota hustler selling obsolete textbooks out of a baby carriage.

HOMETOWN BOY MAKES GOOD Using the clout he'd earned the previous year with his breakout Minnesota indie Patti Rocks (1988), writer-director David Burton Morris endowed this postadolescent vehicle for a pre-stardom Anthony Edwards (ER) with the class-conflict theme that's been a mainstay of Minnesota movies. Edwards, looking totally '80s with a stud earring and a mod-rocker 'do, plays Boyd, a Bay Area waiter who comes home to small-town Desmond, Minn., to tell his mom (Grace Zabriskie) that he's not the world-famous psychiatrist he said he was. Trouble is, proud-as-punch Mom decorates the house with red, white, and blue streamers; the rubelike townsfolk salute their young idol ad infinitum; and, as the timid kid strains to tell the truth, Morris turns his film into an unfunny and apolitical version of Hail the Conquering Hero. No way could Edwards have imagined while shooting this bomb that he'd eventually make good on TV. Conversely, Morris would find his home on the set of small-screen features, including his current project, a bio-pic of Sonny and Cher.

YOU'LL LIKE MY MOTHER Shot almost entirely at the Congdon estate in Duluth, site of a notorious double-murder five years later, this 1972 thriller ranks with Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby as a work of creepy prescience. As it begins, the poor, pregnant Francesca (Patty Duke) arrives at the mansion of her late husband's family to meet his mother--who, per the title, she'd been told she would like. The woman Francesca finds, however, is a frigid Minnesota madam (Rosemary Murphy) uninterested in sharing courtesies, much less the dead man's inheritance. As a snowstorm keeps this pair cooped up, the movie wants to be a throwback to the gothic likes of Rebecca and other such psychological women's pictures, but it's hampered by director Lamont Johnson's cheesy deployment of baby-in-danger scenarios, pseudo-psychedelic camera tricks, and narrative cribbings from the much scarier Psycho. (Richard Thomas, soon to be John Boy, plays an unsettlingly clean-cut Norman Bates type who lurks about the old, dark house.) Nevertheless, this Mother has its moments--especially those appearing to allude to a real Minnesota murder mystery that hadn't yet begun.

FAR NORTH Conceived as an ode to the Cloquet roots of his longtime companion, Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard's film-directing debut (1988) portrays four generations of Minnesota women in the hysterical manner of a north-woods screwballer. Lange plays a New York City transplant who, after her Duluth-area dad (Charles Durning) gets thrown by a horse, is given the job of returning home to put the animal down, despite the fierce objections of her sister (Tess Harper). By default, a distinguishing feature of Far North is that it sports what is probably the shrillest enunciation of our state's name in all of cinema, as Patricia Arquette's hungover teenager stands atop a toilet screaming, "Get me out of Minnesota!" As cartoonish as Fargo (but less pointedly so), Far North reflects its Illinois-born author's oeuvre as much as its Great Northern setting. In other words, according to Shepard, the curse of these (emotionally) starving Minnesotans is their stubborn pride.

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