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Film / Grand Canyon

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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 and co-written by Lawrence Kasdan and featuring an ensemble cast including Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Mary McDonnell, Steve Martin, Mary-Louise Parker, Alfre Woodard, and Jeremy Sisto. The movie follows how a chance encounter between Kline's white upper-middle-class lawyer Mack, and Glover's black working-class tow truck driver Simon, ultimately affects the lives of each other's families and friends.

While driving home from a Lakers game one night, Mack takes a wrong turn, and his car breaks down on the Wrong Side of the Tracks. While waiting for a tow truck to arrive, he gets threatened by a group of black Gangbangers. Just when Mack thinks he's about to get mugged, or even murdered, Simon arrives in his tow truck. After Simon talks the gang bangers into leaving, a grateful Mack strikes up a friendship with him. Mack gradually becomes involved in Simon's life, going so far as to help his sister and nephew move to a better neighborhood, and to fix him up with Jane (Woodard), the best friend of Mack's secretary Dee (Parker). Meanwhile, Mack's wife Claire (McDonnell) is suffering from Empty Nest when their teenage son and only child Roberto (Sisto) goes to camp for the summer. While jogging one day, she finds an abandoned baby girl, and decides that she and Mack should adopt her. Finally, Davis (Martin), who is a producer of violent action movies and also Mack's best friend, gets shot in the leg while being mugged. While recovering from the gunshot wound, he reconsiders the direction of his life and his career.

This film contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: When Davis tries to give his nurse some money, she refuses, so he hugs her and slips the money in her pocket. In My Blue Heaven, Steve Martin's character did the same thing with a flight attendant.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Simon is telling Deborah and Otis about a customer he had and their car. Otis laughs when he hears Simon say the customer claimed the car had sentimental value, and Otis jokes that maybe the customer lost their virginity there. Deborah reproaches Otis for this, but when Simon also says the customer got shot at while in the car, and Otis jokes at how the customer must have had some good times in the car, Deborah laughs at that.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Averted; Claire wants to keep the abandoned baby because it's implied she's suffering from Empty Nest feelings. However Mack is reluctant to go through the stress of raising a child all over again, now that his son has reached adulthood.
  • Beggar with a Signboard: Type 1. Dee notices a man with a cardboard sign that reads "Will Work For Food" as she drives to work.
  • 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.
  • Broken Aesop: In-universe. Davis, after dealing with real-world gun violence, eventually goes back to directing violent movies. Money, Dear Boy.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Claire's Dream Sequence ends up like this.
  • Cool Car: Being a rich and successful movie producer, Davis drives a bright red Ferrari Testarossa.
  • Covert Pervert: When Dee and Jane are sitting together in the coffee shop:
    Dee: We must be going about this whole thing wrong or something.
    Jane: What "thing"?
    Dee: The "love" thing. The "touch" thing. Where there's somebody to touch you, real nice and gentle.
    Jane: It doesn't have to be that gentle.
  • Crazy Homeless Person: The bearded homeless person (the "Alley Baron" in the credits) Claire sees while jogging, and in her dream. He even has Wild Hair!
  • Creator Cameo: Kasdan plays an editor on Davis' latest film.
  • Disappeared Dad: Otis's father is neither seen nor mentioned in the film.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Two fairly mild examples:
    • Mack near the start of the movie at the Lakers game.
    • Davis near the end of the film while Mack is driving him around the studio backlot.
  • Dream Sequence: Both Mack and Claire have pretty vivid dreams the night Mack cuts his finger.
  • Dreams of Flying: Mack's dream has him flying over Los Angeles and a Hollywood sign altered to read "Hullo Mack", and up to an apartment where Dee lies naked in bed waiting for him.
  • 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: Two examples:
    • Mack's story about the woman in the baseball cap.
    • Claire's memory of putting Roberto in his car seat when he was still a small child.
  • Gangbangers: The young black men who intimidate Mack when his car breaks down. It is also implied that a number of Otis's friends are these. While Otis himself is not yet a full-fledged gangbanger, he is clearly at risk of becoming one.
  • The Ghost: Two examples, one major and one minor:
    • Major: Otis's gangbanger friends. Often mentioned but never actually seen. We do, however, see the tragic results of his involvement with them.
    • Minor: Mack's partner Harlan at the law firm. Both Mack and Claire agree that he is obnoxious and a major source of workplace tension for Mack. He is never seen nor heard in the film.
  • 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.
  • Horrible Hollywood: Davis chewing out his editor (director Kasdan in a Creator Cameo) for cutting a scene of brains splattering on the windshield after a bus driver gets shot in the head.
    Davis: Where's the shot?
    Editor: What shot?
    Davis: You took out the shot.
    Editor: Which shot is that?
    Davis: The money shot. The bus driver's head. The brains-on-the-window shot. The viscera-on-the-visor shot.
    Editor: We thought we'd show it to you without...
    Davis: Put it back. Don't show me anything.
    Editor: You don't need it. You're not even giving it a chance.
    Davis: How's the rear-view-mirror gag supposed to work without it? Am I the only one here who respects the writing?!
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: The police helicopters, whose appearances often signal "Meanwhile, in another part of Los Angeles..."
  • Ignored Epiphany: Davis resumes making violent action films even though he seemingly learned a lesson about real violence.
  • Innocently Insensitive: When Davis is riding with Mack and Vanessa on the way home from the hospital, Davis discusses the baby Claire wants to adopt and why Mack is against it, which brings Vanessa, Davis' girlfriend, to tears. After Vanessa composes herself, she confesses she's always wanted children and she worries Davis doesn't.
  • 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.
  • Just a Flesh Wound: Averted. When Davis gets shot in his leg, he spends weeks in rehab. Laser-Guided Karma for an action-movie director who regularly employs the trope.
  • 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.
  • Match Cut: The basketball rim at the very beginning. A pick-up game Simon is playing on an outdoor asphalt court in his neighborhood (shot in colors so muted as to be almost in black-and-white) cuts to a Lakers game (in bright colors) at the Great Western Forum where Mack, Davis, and Vanessa have courtside seats.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Both Mack and Claire openly wonder about this given recent events in their lives.
    • 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 city bus. 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 perhaps 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.
    • Later in the film, Claire explains that she thinks she found the baby for a reason, in much the same way that Mack thinks Simon arrived with the tow truck when he did for a reason.
    Claire: What if these are miracles, Mack? Maybe we don't have any experience with miracles so we are slow to recognize them.
  • 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, 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.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Davis gets shot in the thigh, which in his films would be this Trope, but in Real Life he ends up in the ICU and limps severely the rest of the film.
  • Parental Abandonment: The baby Claire finds in the woods near her house while jogging is the first and most straightforward example. A more subtle example is Otis, whose father seems to be nowhere in the picture, making him a Disappeared Dad.
  • 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. This actually happened to Lawrence Kasdan in real life, and it was his inspiration for doing the movie.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Dee delivers one to Mack about how he has behaved toward her in the wake of their one night stand.
  • Satellite Character: Jane, first with regards to Dee, and then later with regards to Simon.
  • Scenery Porn: The film has several beautiful shots of Los Angeles, both during daylight and during the night. While recovering in the hospital, Davis asked one of the nurses to leave the curtains open all night because he wanted to see the shot of the entire city during the sunrise.
    • Also the shot of the Grand Canyon at the end of the film.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: On the ride home from the hospital, Davis and Mack's serious conversation about Mack's new baby brings Vanessa to tears. When Mack offers Vanessa his handkerchief, Davis abruptly switches the topic to handkerchiefs:
    Davis: While we've got a moment here, maybe you can explain to me something I never understood. What is the theory on this handkerchief thing? I mean, after you blow your nose in it, you put it back in your pocket, and then you see someone distressed and you, like, give them this "gift" from your pocket? And they're supposed to be grateful as they wipe it all over their face??
  • Shout-Out: Three of them:
    • 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.
    • Among the Alley Baron's random mumblings is "Beaufort, South Carolina", which is the setting for director Kasdan's earlier film The Big Chill.
    • Davis brings up the 1941 film Sullivan's Travels to explain why he's still making violent movies.
  • 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.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: After his encounter with the gang, Mack is pretty convinced he lives in a Crapsack World. The events of the film change his perspective, however, to a more optimistic and idealistic view of the world and the people who live in it.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Played for Drama as Davis drifts in and out of consciousness as a surgeon works on the gunshot wound in his leg. They get the bullet out, all while talking about how much blood he is losing, and whether or not they'll be able to save his leg. The scene is quite graphic, as the film avoids the use of a Gory Discretion Shot.
  • Time-Passes Montage: The camera pans away from Dee in her apartment to a nighttime view of the LA skyline. The view then time lapses to morning, after which we see Davis in his hospital room looking out the window at the city as the sun rises.
  • Title Drop: Three times:
    • On an episode of Cheers while Deborah sleeps on the couch in front of the TV. "So, you gonna see the Grand Canyon?"
    • By Simon while sitting and talking with Mack at the gas station. "You ever been to the Grand Canyon?"
    • By Davis while Mack drives him around the studio lot. "It's like this big hole has opened up in the ground, as big as the fucking Grand Canyon, and what's come pouring out..."
  • 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".
  • Wild Hair: The Alley Baron has this, not unexpectedly for a Crazy Homeless Person.
  • Wisdom from the Gutter: The Alley Baron mumbles nonsense to himself, until the precise moment when Claire jogs by him. Then he mumbles,"Keep the baby. You need her as much as she needs you." While Claire stops jogging and looks at the Alley Baron in astonishment, he goes back to random mumbling.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: The ending of the film, in which the characters marvel at a view of the Grand Canyon, and which is followed by a birds-eye (or helicopters-eye) fly-through of the canyon while the end credits roll and a trumpet fanfare plays.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Where Mack's car breaks down, and where Deborah and Otis live for the first part of the film.