For every moment of suffering,
For every moment of joy,
For every up or down you face,
Another’s felt it in your place.
Another’s felt that same heartache,
That grateful twinge, that give and take,
And you can trust you’re not alone
In every feeling you can’t shake.

Perhaps they’re a hemisphere distant,
Perhaps they are right down the street,
Perhaps you’ve met and couldn’t tell
How similar the parallel
Between the feelings that you share,
The craving dream, the silent prayer.
Perhaps you both look nothing alike,
But what you share is always there.

MPA rating: R (mainly for language and brief nudity)

One of fellow blogger MovieRob’s favorite films (thanks for the recommendation), Grand Canyon is the kind of film I usually like, a wide-reaching glimpse into the lives of diverse people and how their individual stories intersect. This sort of ensemble picture can have varying levels of prestige, from the holiday charm of Love Actually to the sober drama of Yi Yi, but it can also go wildly wrong if too many of the stories themselves are uninteresting or off-putting, as with last year’s disappointing Blindspot Short Cuts. Thankfully, Grand Canyon is on the positive side of that spectrum, though there’s a distinct feeling that it’s trying too hard to hammer home its themes.

Advertised as a spiritual successor to writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill (one of my VC’s favorite movies), the film’s main dynamic is sparked when lawyer Mack (Kevin Kline) narrowly escapes being mugged thanks to the cool-headed tow truck driver Simon (Danny Glover), after which Mack goes out of his way to befriend Simon and help him and his family. Alongside this plot are parallel threads about Mack’s wife (Mary McDonnell) wanting to adopt an abandoned baby she finds and his movie producer friend Davis (Steve Martin) second-guessing the violent content of his films after he is injured in a shooting. Add in the likes of Alfre Woodard, Mary-Louise Parker, and Jeremy Sisto, and you have an outstanding ensemble cast on hand.

On a purely narrative level, Grand Canyon deals with how people react to unexpected changes in their life – a near-death experience, a mid-life crisis, a change in scenery, the blossoming or ending of a love affair. In these aspects, the film excels in its realistic portrayal of different responses. Mack’s scare causes him to reach out and look further in the strata of Los Angeles society than he has before, even if he can’t shake some cluelessness of how his actions affect others. On the other hand, Davis’s change in perspective is short-lived, merely informing his decision to keep up his old habits. The film doesn’t end up giving complete closure to all these disparate threads (the storylines of Parker’s adulterous secretary and Simon’s gang-influenced nephew are dropped without a final resolution), but it is only a snapshot of these turning points, one that captures their dreams and anxieties in a world just as chaotic as it is thirty-two years later.

One can tell the effort that went into Kasdan’s Oscar-nominated screenplay, which is replete with insightful discussions about control and meaning and miracles and existence. And while these are laudable topics, I couldn’t help but think that normal people don’t talk about these universal concepts as casually as they do in this movie. While I appreciated the existential concerns raised (albeit without any religious dimension), the eloquence of it also kept reminding me that this is a script being delivered, quite well of course but not convincingly enough to completely connect with these characters. That could be my own personal gripe that wouldn’t bother other viewers, but it keeps Grand Canyon from being a new favorite ensemble flick. Still, as thoughtful all-star dramas go, it’s a well-made and perceptive piece that uses its particular time and place to ask timeless questions.

Best line: (Davis, to Mack) “That’s part of your problem, you know, you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

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