OK, confession time; when I first saw it, I loved Lawrence Kasdan’s “Grand Canyon (1991).” And when I say love, I mean passionately, effusively, haunt-my-mind kind of love. That good feeling led me to impulse-buy the DVD a few years later when I saw it in a store.
And to my dismay, every time I watch the movie I like it less. I’ve only seen it three times and it just keeps getting worse and worse. What hurts me the most is that being critical of this film feels like I’m a bully, picking on the easy target, that shy kid who just wants to be liked.
“Grand Canyon,” in something of a follow-up (a spiritual, if not literal, sequel) to Kasdan’s 1980s mega-hit “The Big Chill,” follows the lives of various Los Angelinos, how/when their paths cross, and the fallout of those crossings.
One fateful night, Mack (Kevin Kline) is driving home from a Lakers game, takes a detour and his car dies in an L.A. ghetto. He calls for a tow truck, but before it gets there, some gangbangers sense his weakness and begin harassing him, going so far as to threaten to shoot him if he doesn’t comply with their requests.
But, just in time, Simon (Danny Glover) shows up, convinces the hooligans to leave them be, and gets Mack to safety. Mack, grateful and awestruck, starts poking around in Simon’s life, trying to help him out, ‘save’ him and his loved ones, like he was saved.
Some other stuff happens too: Mack’s wife, Claire (Mary McDonnell), is out jogging and finds an abandoned baby in the bushes. Mack’s friend Davis (Steve Martin), a movie producer with an unhealthy love of violence, is shot and seriously wounded after a robbery-gone-wrong. Simon’s sister, Deborah (Tina Lifford), is a struggling single mother whose son, Otis (Patrick Malone), is involved with a local gang.
All compelling stories, interesting people, etc., but the problem I kept having is that this feels like a small picture, but Kasdan, along with fellow screenwriter Meg Kasdan, don’t seem satisfied with a simple story. They keep trying to tie these stories into a larger frame, and complex themes about race and modern life that isn’t a natural fit.
As interesting as these characters are, I never once forgot that I was watching a movie; the people just don’t exist beyond the frame; they have no lives beyond the script or beyond their scenes.
They are all just mouthpieces for the middle-age angst of the writers, which would be OK if the movie was any good, but “Grand Canyon” is not the grand, sweeping monument to modern times it so desperately wants to be; instead, it ends up sinking under the weight of its (admirable) ambitions. It reminded me a lot of “Crash,” another epic on race relations that I felt possessed noble intentions but fell far short of the greatness it longed for.
It may suck to be the bully film critic, but in this instance, the film had it coming.
“Grand Canyon” (1991)
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
Writter by Lawrence Kasdan and Meg Kasdan
Starring: Danny Glover (Simon)
Kevin Kline (Mack)
Steve Martin (Davis)
Mary McDonnell (Claire)