Monday, February 22, 2021

90's Watch: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Watched:  02/22/2021
Format:  Amazon Prime Streaming
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1990's
Director:  George Armitage

This movie held up better than I expected.  It's still the same mess of wanting to be too many things that it was when I saw it in the theater, but it's still charming and still works.  

Something about the movie feels like a studio editor, who didn't care, came at it super hard, or there were just too many competing things occurring in the script to make it really gel.*  But the two stars, John Cusack and Minnie Driver, are charming and, frankly, non-standard enough in their approaches that they do a lot of heavy lifting just by being the leads.

Director George Armitage is a curious selection.  He had previously made Miami Blues, which has it's own odd pacing (if what I remember from seeing it when I was 16 is any indication).  A lot of the film feels improvised, and that's not a complaint.  You get some interesting risks in the movie, and maybe more honesty about the characters.  

I am now actually looking at my 30th high school reunion in a couple of years, so the notion of a 10th reunion having any impact is way in the rearview mirror (I have not attended any official reunions), but in 1997 when this came out, I was only 4 years out of school, and the notion of what I'd be and where I'd be loomed large.  And the idea in the script of what it would mean to have taken a severe left turn and wound up as a professional assassin and *still* coming back for a reunion to catch up with the girl you let get away - that's some true boy's own romance stuff there.  

Gen X definitely wrestled with the notion of reunions a bit differently than the Boomers, who saw it as The Big Chill or the like.  Instead, our reunion pictures were more along the lines of Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, a nightmare of our own making as we inserted ourselves into the continuity we'd broken off at age 18 to see if we'd held up our promises to ourselves - that we thought other people gave a shit about.  And, let's be honest, what better way to show ourselves our new life was more interesting than having to off a guy who came for us in the halls where we used to worry about getting a tardy marked on our permanent records?

But, yeah, it's both the fantasy and awkwardness of realizing you DID manage to not just wind up like the people you swore you'd move away from.  Sure, you aren't as boring as the guy talking about his law practice, but now you're having to recruit your old pal to help you move a body?  

As I said, the leads are great.  Cusack had already been the Gen X high schooler avatar for middle-class kids, from his Savage Steve Holland high school films to the iconic turn as Lloyd Dobbler.**  Having him revisit high school now as a hitman at the end of his rope, who is remembering the last good thing in his life?  That just worked.  And, of course, it didn't hurt that Joan Cusack plays his office manager, getting to cut loose in a way Joan Cusack is rarely allowed but clearly can do.  

Minnie Driver as the ex girlfriend is a curious choice.  She's barely hanging in there with an American accent, and it's absolutely not a Michigan accent, but it doesn't matter.  She's not a cool 90's girl, a la Janine Garofolo, nor a comedian there to quip wise or goofy.  And - it's a solid and buyable chocie.  Driver was an unconventional beauty for the "if it's not blonde, why would we look at it?" 1990's, and she radiates a certain cool charisma that you can see would stick in someone's mind.

Whatever spark she felt for Martin Blank in 1986 is still alive and kicking, and she has her own unresolved business.  She doesn't get fleshed out super well, and is left mostly reacting to what is happening, but she clearly plays her character as a living, flesh and blood person who is *fine* without Martin, and not just an empty vessel of a character.

But, the immediate locking of eyes and move to making out - I sincerely doubt was scripted, but, man, it works, and it sells everything else about why she doesn't tell him to just fuck off when that feels like the *logical* thing.  10 years haven't cooled anything down.

The movie is funny - darkly, morbidly funny.  Seeing your house turned into an Ulti-Mart is a real "you can never go home again" reminder.  Dan Aykroyd in maybe his best role of the 1990's as a gun-for-hire trying to unionize the biz was a revelation when this thing came out, and still is one of the best bits.  

But everyone pulls their weight.  Jeremy Piven hadn't yet burned audiences out yet, and is in top form, and Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman as shady NSA agents is just good stuff.  

The movie is so music-heavy (losing sight of the fact it's supposed to be 1980's music, but okay) that the film had two separate "music from the movie" soundtrack albums.  It's some rock solid programming and captured a particular vibe for the movie without a score that it seems we used to see a lot more of in the 1990's, but has kinda disappeared.  But, yeah, the soundtrack of college-rock favorites has its own legacy.

*late edit - apparently the director shot 3 versions of everything - a scripted take, an over the top take and a bunch of improv take.  Then tried to cut them together.  So, yeah, lots of improv, meaning lots of throw-away lines and maybe some stuff that doesn't really go anywhere 
**still proud to say I saw Say Anything in the theater, man

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