Know Your Enemy: Minnesota

Artifacts of culture are easy to find, when you have a Netflix account and about 27 hours to spare. Getting to know Minnesota, the hard way.

"Everything I learned I learned from the movies."

- Audrey Hepburn

Ordinarily you'd expect an examination of the opponent's offense or defense in a post during such an important football week on a football blog. But, I'll leave it to others to break down the Xs and Os of the game on Saturday. Getting to know the enemy, to me, should never be limited to just studying strategy on the field. If you're going into hostile territory you need to have a penetrating social understanding of your foe. Who are these people? Why are these people? For me, I answer such intricately complex social questions with Netflix. Because nothing reveals more about a people than a fictional film set in their community.

And so I have accumulated a list of films - somewhat contemporary films - that take place (so say the films) in Minnesota. These are not movies that were necessarily filmed in Minnesota; in fact many of them were not. These are films in which the setting of the film is supposedly MINNESOTA.

Finally, this list is not a ranking per se (despite the countdown, which I did just to be a contradictory dick), but is a list of 10 films I felt were worthy of consideration when doing homework on these jagoffs. As much as it pains me to admit this, there is no unifying theme beyond "these films were set in Minnesota, so they must tell us something about Minnesotans." And, finally, finally these films are not grouped by "best" or "worst" or even most or least "authentic." Enough lead in. Let's go.

10. A Prairie Home Companion (2006) - the truth is, the thing that makes this movie is its trivia potential: "Name the movie in which Meryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan both starred?" If you haven't listened to National Public Radio in a while you'll probably think this was a spoof film cooked up by Christopher Guest and Michael McKean. Spoiler alert, it's not. This is a sincer-ish film about the folksy Minnesota of native Minnesotan Garrison Keillor's mind. Serves as a good appetizer. Do not make it your main course. You'll starve to death.

9. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000) - Starring Robert De Niro. Just let that sink in. There was a time when Hollywood could not resist pairing animated cartoon characters and live actors on the big screen. Jason Alexander issued a public apology for the film and his appearance in it. It takes place in Minnesota, which is sweet. I strongly recommend you take this film as Minnesota gospel.

8. New in Town (2009) - A high-powered consultant (Renée Zellweger) in love with her upscale Miami lifestyle is sent to frigid New Ulm, Minnesota - a town famous for having a large glockenspiel bell tower - to bring a blue collar manufacturing plant up to speed. She of course gets a frosty reception (get it?) from the townspeople who think she's cold (get it?), but a good old local boy is able to break through her icy demeanor (get it?) and teach her the true meaning of something. Of course it's terrible. But not because of her or the plot, it's because of Harry Connick, Jr. who is neither believable as a Minnesotan, or a man. The soundtrack is a Who's Who of American Idol castoffs, which closes the deal nicely.

7. Angus (1995) - Coming-of-age comedy about an underdog kid living in Minnesota, who despite being a pretty good football player and an accomplished science student feels terrible about himself. Thanks to this gem, whenever I think of Minnesota teens I think "fuck you, quit complaining because you're probably going to medical school on an athletic scholarship." What makes this film really Minnesota-y, is James Van Der Beek. Sure, why not?

6. Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) - A cult film. As Robert Altman once said, "What's a cult? It just means not enough people to make a minority." Minnesota, by the way, according to the Utne Reader, is the cult capital of America - but that's an aside. Cult film to me is usually code for, no one paid to see it. But, this baby has its moments. Beauty pagent comedy that takes place in the small and staunchly conservative (and fictitious) town of Mount Rose, Minnesota. Kirsten Dunst stars as a wannbe who signs up for the pageant, hoping that by winning she will be able to leave the dead-end town and become a successful news anchor, which might be the funniest thing about the movie, only because it's believable. Of course, I always confuse Kristen Dunst with Reese Witherspoon, and so I always confuse this plot with Legally Blonde. Which means I just admitted that I've seen Legally Blonde.

5. Feeling Minnesota (1996) - I always like to watch the wooden Indian, Keanu Reeves. He has this thing; I don't know how you would describe it...he's part animatronic, part himbo. It's unlike any combination in Hollywood history and it's absorbing as hell. Anyway, this film is not worth summarizing really (striper, blackmail, corrupt detective, blah, blah, blah), because it's stupid as shit. But, I will say this; besides Keanu Reeves, who is worth over $350 million (just thought I'd toss that in there) it has one of the best indie casts of any shitty film, ever. I give the cast 5-Stars and if I could, I would give the film a Spirit Award for best cast in a film you should never watch. It's that good. You want proof? Max Perlich is cast in the film, and that dude is fucking casting gold.

4. A Simple Plan (1998) - Sam Raimi. You hear that name and think Spiderman. I hear that name and think A Simple Plan. The film does not take place exclusively in Minnesota. No matter. It's pure Midwest creepiness. And when I think Midwest creepiness I think Minnesota (3/4 of Nebraska, non-urban or suburban Wisconsin, and most of Indiana...and southern Missouri, but I digress). Billy Bob Thorton used to be a decent actor, and I guess this film could be submitted into evidence as proof of that. But make no mistake; this is Sam Raimi figuring out Minnesota. Highly recommended.

3. A Serious Man (2009) - So the Coen brothers grew up in Minnesota; suburban Minneapolis to be precise. They're highly accomplished filmmakers and they've drawn on their home state for considerable creative oomph. Those who are familiar with their work might have expected me to list another film out of their oeuvre, but this baby might be the most perceptive film ever about the quirkiness of Minnesota. The film is about a Jewish family in crisis, which is really just a movie metaphor for something having to do with Minnesota; I just haven't finished figuring it all out. Still, it's perfect.

2. Juno (2007) - It's hard to talk about Juno because it's been talked to death. In fact, it might be impossible for people to watch the film a second time because of that. But, just think back to that moment when you first saw it, before it became so over talked about. Remember that time? Well, admit it: You thought it was a perfect little slice of Minnesota. And you know why? Because of all the Canadian permeations. That's why. It was filmed in Canada, directed by a Canadian starring a couple of Canadians, all in the name of a U.S. state. It was either Minnesota or Maine or Canada for god sakes. And situating a film in Canada is the kiss of box office death, even for Canadian audiences. And Maine is not at all endearing (my wife is from Maine, so I can kinda say that). And that left Minnesota. [N.B.: Ignore the fact that the screenplay was written by a Hawkeye, that just complicates this entry.]

1. Untamed Heart (1993) - Marisa Tomei at the semi-apex of her hotness, although I always think she's at the semi-apex of her hotness, is a waitress who is, as Shakespeare liked to say, a star-crossed lover. Christian Slater, one of my all-time favorite teen actors, is a reclusive busboy that saves Caroline when two men try to rape her on her way home from work. They become close. She falls in love. The rapists come after Slater to seek revenge. They stab him. He lives. She discovers he has a baboon heart. They go to a hockey game. He's hit with a hockey puck shot into the crowd. On the way home he falls asleep and dies. It's awesome and I'm not even lying. Minnesotans are likely proud.

Honorable Mention: Purple Rain (1984) - Filmed entirely in Minneapolis. Fair warning though, this film is no Graffiti Bridge. If you've been to Minneapolis, and especially the First Avenue dance club, you understand the reach and influence of the little one there. But, ironically, with Purple Rain the "star" of the film is not Prince, but Morris Day. After I saw Purple Rain I kept waiting for the Morris Day bio pic, but alas, it never came. Still, "When Doves Cry" is one of my favorite songs, so if you really, really, really, really enjoy really, really, really long music videos, consider this your Everest.

And there you have it. Go to work. You have time. For extra-credit I have added the infamous Kevin Smith video where he talks about the time he made a (kinda) concert/documentary film with Prince. It's long. It's fantastical. It's Minnesota being Minnesota, to Kevin Smith, via Prince.

Enjoy!


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