“Grand Canyon” (1991)

MOVIE REVIEW: “Grand Canyon” stars Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda, Cry Freedom), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon [1987], Saw), Mary McDonnell (Donnie Darko, Independence Day), Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds [TV series], R.I.P.D.), Steve Martin (The Jerk [1979], Shopgirl), Alfre Woodard (Primal Fear, K-PAX), Jeremy Sisto (Law & Order [TV series], Suburgatory [TV series]), Tina Lifford (Hostage, Blood Work), and Patrick Malone (Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, The Bonfire of the Vanities). It is directed by Lawrence Kasdan (Wyatt Earp [1994], The Big Chill), who also wrote it with Meg Kasdan (Darling Companion). The film depicts the rough urban lifestyles of several individuals living in L.A., hoping to find meaning in their often hopeless lives.

Nothing gets better than someone handing me a random DVD of some film I’ve never heard of, telling me to watch and critique it. I’m honored, not only because I was asked for my opinion, but because the movie had an absurd title. “Grand Canyon.” What is it about? While I’d love to delve into the history and emotions drawn up from the making and visiting of the big hole in the ground, that’s actually what this film isn’t about. Sure, they mention the Grand Canyon a few times, often alluding to visiting it, but unfortunately this is a people study; one of individuals growing up in a rough urban lifestyle. We all know the slums are a bad place, though Lawrence Kasdan wanted to open a window into the perspective of those who live in it, and boy does he have a gamut of characters. In total, we jump between six characters over the course of two-and-a-half hours, and while that is plenty of time, it’s certainly a tug-and-pull of attention. Before I go into my overall analysis of the feature, I must first ask this question: do you enjoy movies where it starts and ends? Yes, all flicks do that, but look past the simple phrasing. This is a picture that starts on someone’s life at a random point and ends without a driving overarching story at hand. Think “Manchester by the Sea,” but less depressing. If you don’t love seeing a bunch of people count their woes and blessings in the 90’s for two hours straight, you may not be that interested in this movie. I completely understand if you don’t like this because I personally don’t care for this type of sub-genre myself. There are exceptions, like “Napoleon Dynamite,” but typically filmmakers miss the mark when they try to create a picture that only they can appreciate (and a small fan base). So, does “Grand Canyon” miss that mark? In general, yes, but it does have its redeeming qualities. The characters are solid, the dialogue is interesting, and the overall feel of the 90’s that seeps through the filmmaking makes for a somewhat eye-catching experience. The only issue is…I learned almost nothing in the end. What I started with never changed outside of slow character development, and in the end I was left as empty as the Grand Canyon itself. Let’s figure out how the film got this way. As I stated before, there are some solid characters in this; nothing Oscar-worthy (or Best Character worthy in the Juicy Awards), but I was engaged in what they were doing. Of course, it’s set in a rough part of town, so there is a lot of drama taking place. A husband cheating on his wife, a mother finding a baby in shrubbery, an older single man living out his days in solidarity, a mother surviving gang violence, a son being involved in gang violence; the list could go on for quite a while, and it’s a large mound to sift through. For every ten minutes of interesting development, you have about ten more of filler. It’s bound to happen when you have a huge range of characters to work with; some are susceptible to being more engaging than others. I liked Danny Glover’s role as well as Steve Martin’s (who had the least bit of screen time), however there were plenty of others I could’ve done without, particularly the assistant and teenage son who went to camp. They’re both utilized as “key” pieces that don’t even seem necessary, and that leads me to the main issue of this picture: unnecessary characters. I was captivated by specific character moments and good dialogue scenes, though the weight of all of these people fighting for the screen was almost too much to bear. Fifty percent of this overall flick didn’t matter to me, leaving me bereft of my free time. Do I care about the main guy’s adultery with his assistant? I don’t know, because Kasdan only devoted twenty minutes to that arc in total, all of which was dispersed amongst the entire film. I could care less about the woman and her problem of a married man not loving her as much as his wife, and I don’t expect you to either. Adultery isn’t that relatable, especially since we all consider it a terrible act. The fact that the woman offered no redeemable qualities made matters worse. By the end, she did nothing and gained nothing, so why should I feel something for her? Why should I devote my time to her side of the story when Kasdan barely did anything to justify her acts? Honestly, I forgot she was there most of the time. The adultery thing was hardly given the time of day, as was whatever the teen who went to camp did. I guess he served as a buffer for the parents, but Kasdan actually gave him a few scenes of hollow development that served almost no purpose. I not only saw him comfort a kid at camp (in one of the most randomest scenes), but I also saw him get some driving hours in during a behind-the-wheel session that could’ve been trimmed down. You could say that this all attested to whatever theme this flick served, but once you figure out that theme, let me know. I’m dying to understand what it all means besides the whole “life can be rough, but you gotta persevere and love” schtick. It’s a crutch that Kasdan seemed to lean back on a lot during the course of this feature. I admit, it’s nice in some regards, but if I’m going to sit down for two and a half hours, I hope to be left with something sentimental or hearty. When I don’t get that, I often question the point of the movie’s existence. It seems harsh, but I’m sure you’re thinking the same. All of this bashing does not lead me to why it is redeemable. There are surprisingly good aspects of this film, but it’s a tricky situation. The characters, for the most part, are well-written. Kasdan is a genius writer, and I will admit that I was engaged for a majority of this picture, regardless of what was clearly filler. The dialogue was of a professional soap opera, hard to look away from without being pulled into the drama. Not only was I engaged with the dialogue, but I was also curious as to how it would all end. Obviously, you all can get a clue from my observation of films that simply “end.” It made me frustrated, but for the time leading up to that I was content with the character moments that took place. Even the people around me that didn’t even start it with me got glued to the screen in some way or another. It has an allure to it; one that makes you want to see it through. While I was disappointed, I was entertained leading up to the conclusion. I knew what was filler and what wasn’t, though the characters were interesting enough to where I could reside in that fact without feeling frustrated. And, while referring back to my main pros, the story retains a 90’s feel that I oddly enjoyed. The musical score was sporadic, the clothing was dull yet classic, and the lingo was one that I remembered viewing in some of the pictures my parents would put on for us if the generation. It was surprisingly comforting, however this aspect wasn’t enough to keep the story afloat. “Grand Canyon” is an interesting endeavor filled with so much frivolous character development that you’ll throw up, and while I enjoyed most of the dialogue, the weight of its importance was too little for my tastes. Watch with caution, for you may be sucked into an endless wormhole of filler. FINAL SCORE: 67%= Burnt Popcorn
Here is the trailer:

One response to ““Grand Canyon” (1991)

  1. Pingback: September Movie Rankings | Juicy Reviews·

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