Freeze Frame

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

THE PERSONALSBy far the best-known movie in this obscure bunch, Peter Markle's low-budget romantic comedy from 1981 is the archetypal Minnesota indie and a largely impressive precursor to other frugal, Woody-related fare by the likes of Alan Rudolph, Spike Lee, and Steven Soderbergh. Coming on like a Minneapolitan Manhattan, The Personals was pioneering at the time for its commitment to making the city seem seductively upscale: If references to The New Yorker, cappuccino, and "14th-century Byzantine iconography" sound strained today...well, they did in '81, too. Markle's squeaky-clean Minneapolis also appears the SWM capital of the world, where newly divorced magazine publisher Bill (Bill Schoppert) puts an ad in the Twin Cities Reader ("varied interests [include] Prokofiev, Red Smith rollerskating and chicken kiev") and is immediately deluged with eager responses and 8-by-10s. Plus, the Reader's classified-ads receptionist is so gosh-darn Nice to our hero ("First time? You don't look like you'll be a regular!") that you'd think she was bucking for a date with him herself. (And how 'bout that kindly black-man-with-a-boombox who offers to give the clumsy white guy rollerskating lessons?) Much less Minnesotan, though, is Shelly (Vicki Daktl), a stereotyped Jewish date from hell and a misguided, offensive "homage" to The Heartbreak Kid's Lila.

WILDROSEDedicated to the people of northern Minnesota, "with a special tribute to the women miners of the Mesabi Iron Range," this rare, regionally authentic, John Sayles-esque indie (made in 1982 and released in '84) appears as the rural flip-side of The Personals. Filmed documentary style with handheld cameras, it follows a tough and principled Eveleth divorcée (Lisa Eichhorn) in her work as the only woman on a mostly sexist crew of iron-pit laborers. Filmmaker John Hanson (who co-directed the 1979 North Dakota period-piece Northern Lights with Rob Nilsson) purveys both a tactile sense of northern Minnesota nature and a palpable compassion for his heroine, who struggles to put her history of domestic abuse behind her and start over with a new suitor (Tom Bower). Between its tenderly observed scenes of a fish boil, a union meeting, a church sermon, and a town parade, along with its careful study of the workers' daily trips from the iron pit to the watering hole, Wildrose renders a unique culture in beautifully gritty detail--and from a feminist perspective as well.

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