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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Grand Canyon (1991)



Reviews and Comments

In most movies, characters don't think. Not even the smart ones. They don't have to -- the screenwriter has done all the thinking for them. In Grand Canyon, directed by Lawrence Kasdan and written by him as his wife Meg Kasdan, the characters are always thinking. That may seem like a small thing, but it's not. I recognized aspects of myself in the Kevin Kline character, for instance, that I've never seen in any other movie character: in particular how he second-guesses himself in social situations but has learned, through past failures, to speak up about potential misunderstandings and ask for clarifications, lest an awkward moment pass him by and leave him wondering if he had offended someone, or if his interference in someone else's life had truly left that person better off. He's always thinking about his responsibility toward people, too. If his actions result in a radical alteration of the course of someone's life, how much responsibility does he bear for that?

But now I am making this film sound heavy and ponderous, I'm sure. I was expecting the film to be, just from what I'd heard about it: a disparate group of people in L.A. at critical times in their lives, which cause them to wonder about their place in the world, and what kind of shambles that world has become. I know, I know: this doesn't sound like a movie to see so much as a movie to run from.

But from the very first major scene, I was riveted. I cared about these characters. I loved listening to what they had to say. In that first scene, Kline breaks down in a bad part of the city. A gang of kids arrives. It's tense. I won't say what happens, but notice how the scene works on the visceral level of a great urban thriller while also provoking thought about the themes of the film: Why is the world like this? It's one of the best written movie scenes I'd seen in a long time, and the movie was only just getting started.

Throughout the film, the threat of tragedy looms. Because I loved the characters so much, I desperately did not want it to strike, and even simple scenes like a driving lesson take on a level of suspense normally reserved for thrillers. But whether tragedy strikes or not is not the point. The point is that it could, and that possibility, which the various characters in the film come to recognize, asks them to live their lives more thoughtfully. Despite that, so much of Grand Canyon is hopeful. Yes, the world is broken, but it is nevertheless a world of great possibilities.