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Film: Grand Canyon

Simon: When you sit on the edge of that thing, you realize what a joke we people really are, what big heads we have thinking that what we do is gonna matter all that much, thinking that our time here means diddly to those rocks. Just a split second we've all been here, the whole lot of us. And one of us? That's a piece of time so small to get a name.
Mack: You trying to cheer me up?
Simon: Those rocks are laughing at me right now, me and my worries. Yeah, it's real humorous, that Grand Canyon. Its laughing at me right now. You know what I felt like? I felt like a gnat that lands on the ass of a cow chewing his cud on the side of the road that you drive by doing 70 mph.

Grand Canyon is a 1991 drama directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starring Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Mary McDonnell, Steve Martin, Mary-Louise Parker, Alfre Woodard and Jeremy Sisto. While generally well-received, the film was only a modest success at the box office. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel each named the film as one of their 10 Best of 1991. The film also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Screenplay - Motion Picture, and an Oscar Nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

When first released, it was marketed as "The Big Chill for The Nineties", in no small apart because of Kasdan's involvement. In the present day, however, the film is often seen more as a Spiritual Predecessor to the 2004 film Crash, as both films deal with interconnected lives across race and class boundaries in the Los Angeles of their times.

While coming home from a Lakers game one night, Mack (Kline), an immigration lawyer, takes a wrong turn. His car breaks down, and he gets threatened by a gang of black youths. Just when Mack thinks things are getting desperate, Simon (Glover), a tow-truck driver from the service Mack called, arrives and manages to talk the youths into leaving. Grateful, Mack strikes up a friendship with Simon, even helping Simon's sister and nephew move to a better neighborhood, and setting up Simon with Jane (Woodard), the best friend of Mack's secretary Dee (Parker). Meanwhile, Mack's wife Claire (McDonnell), suffering from Empty Nest when their teenage son Roberto (Sisto) goes to camp for the summer, finds an abandoned baby while jogging one day. Over Mack's objections, she wants to adopt it. Finally, Davis (Martin), an action movie producer who is also Mack's best friend, gets shot in the leg while being mugged, and debates whether or not to continue making violent movies.


This film contains examples of:

  • Berserk Button: Deborah does not like life insurance salesmen coming to her door, especially after there's been a shooting in the neighborhood, and especially when the policy is designed to pay for her children's funeral expenses.
  • Black Best Friend: Jane to Dee.
  • Crapsack World: The film moves between this and A World Half Full. At the start of the film, Mack, Simon, and Claire generally believe they live in a Crapsack World. By the end of the film, however, their worldviews have become substantially more optimistic and hopeful.
  • Crazy Homeless Person: The bearded homeless person Claire sees while jogging, and in her dream.
  • Creator Cameo: Kasdan plays an editor on Davis' latest film.
  • Dream Sequence: Both Mack and Claire have pretty vivid dreams the night Mack cuts his finger.
  • Empty Nest: Claire regarding Roberto's going away to camp. Both Davis and Mack wonder if this is the reason why Claire wants to keep the baby she found.
  • Flashback: Mack's story about the woman in the baseball cap.
  • Heel-Face Revolving Door: Davis isn't exactly evil, per se, but after getting shot, he decides he's not going to make the kind of big, violent movies he's known for. However, he changes his mind about that near the end.
  • Hollywood Healing: Completely averted. After Davis gets shot, he immediately throws up and urinates on himself. He ends up having to walk around with a limp and a crutch the rest of the movie.
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: The police helicopters, whose appearances usually signal "Meanwhile, in another part of Los Angeles..."
  • Insufferable Genius: Davis. His genius is in making hit films, not being super-intelligent (though he is very smart), but he fits this trope because he has an opinion about everything.
  • Intertwined Fingers: Dee does this to Mack in his office while flirting with him.
  • Male Gaze: At the Lakers game, to show that Mack is spending just as much time watching the attractive women attending the game as he spends watching the game itself.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Three years prior to the events of the movie, a woman in a Pittsburgh Pirates cap (Mack's favorite team since childhood) grabbed the back of his collar as he began to step off the curb, and thereby saved him from getting hit by a bus in downtown LA. Mack wonders about this while talking to Simon over breakfast at the diner. If magic truly is involved in saving Mack from disaster, then the woman in the baseball cap becomes an Angel Unaware and Simon becomes a Magical Negro.
    Mack: I mean, she reached out and yanked me back from the edge. Literally! Changed everything for me, for my wife, and my son. Then she just wandered off down the Miracle Mile. And how come she was wearing a Pirates cap? I mean, that's an unusual thing at 9 a.m. on Wilshire Boulevard, a woman in a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap. It's a little suspicious.
    Simon: You lost me.
    Mack: I just wondered, later on, was she for real, you know? Was that a real person, or was that something else? You know, like sent from somewhere else to grab me back from that curb.
  • Meet Cute: A volatile example, but it's implied Dee might get together with the cop who comforted her after a thug broke a window in her car while she was in it.
  • The Namesake: About 99% of the movie takes place in and around Los Angeles, which is several hours of driving and nearly 400 miles away from the Grand Canyon. While the Grand Canyon is title dropped a few times in different contexts ("Ever been to the Grand Canyon?", "A hole as big as the Grand Canyon"), it isn't until the very final moments of the film that the main characters actually visit it.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Davis was reportedly based on famed producer Joel Silver.
  • No Name Given: Two notable examples, given how important these characters are to the story arcs of Mack and Claire:
    • Of the five young black men who intimidate Mack after his car breaks down, only one of them, Jimmy, is referred to by name. According to the end credits, the leader of the group is named Rocstar, while the other three are Wipe, Rotor, and Eddie.
    • The homeless man Claire encounters while jogging. No one in the film ever calls him by name or even speaks to him. According to the end credits, his character is named "The Alley Baron".
  • Oh Crap: The look Mack gives Claire as his CPR attempts on their elderly neighbor prove fruitless, while Claire is on the phone with 911 and trying to reassure the neighbor's wife.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: In explaining why he wanted to become friends with Simon, Mack tells a story (which we see in Flashback) of how he was about to walk across a busy street, completely oblivious to the traffic, when a woman grabbed him from behind and saved him from being hit by a bus. Mack was so stunned that all he could do was say, "Thank you"; the woman replied it was her pleasure, walked away, and Mack never saw her again. That actually happened to Lawrence Kasdan in real life, and it was his inspiration for doing the movie.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: While most of Davis' speeches tend to be to the point, there's one scene where, while waiting for his girlfriend Vanessa to stop crying, goes on a riff about the uselessness of handkerchiefs.
  • Shout-Out: When Otis comes home to Deborah sleeping in front of the TV, an episode of Cheers is on {and it happens to be the one where Frasier and Lilith are visiting the Grand Canyon).
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Secretary Dee had a one-night stand with her boss Mack. The aftermath of this encounter drives Dee's character arc in the film.
  • Token Minority Couple: Lampshaded In-Universe by Simon and Jane at the start of the blind date that Mack had fixed up for them.
    Simon: Mack must have had some reason to think this would work. I guess you've known him a while now?
    Jane: I don't know him at all.
    Simon: Really? [beat] Huh, I don't know him much either. That's funny...maybe we're the only two black people he's ever met.
  • Waxing Lyrical: When Mack sees how sad Claire is when Roberto is leaving for camp, he sings, "(S)He's leaving home, bye-bye".
  • Your Cheating Heart: Mack with Dee, though only for one night.

Give My Regards to Broad StreetCreator/ 20 th Century FoxThe Grapes of Wrath
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafeFilms of the 1990sThe Hard Way

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