Flickchart Road Trip: Delaware
Welcome to the latest installment of Flickchart Road Trip, in which I’m starting in Los Angeles and “driving” across country, watching one movie from each state and posting about it once a week. The new movie I watch will go up against five movies from that state I’ve already seen, chosen from five distinct spots on my own Flickchart. Although I won’t tell you where the new movie actually lands in my chart (I don’t like to add new movies until I’ve had a month to think about them), I’ll let you know how it fared among the five I’ve chosen. Thanks for riding shotgun!
Delaware. Delaware. I’ve lost sleep over Delaware.
What would happen when I finally arrived, and couldn’t find five movies I’d seen set in Delaware? What would happen when I couldn’t find three? It threatened all the assumptions — nay, the very foundation — of this blog series.
In fact, I was fully prepared to make Wayne’s World my #1 Delaware movie. Yes, THAT Wayne’s World, the one that’s set in Illinois and Wisconsin. That’s because there’s a scene in Wayne’s World where Wayne and Garth are testing out blue screens for their new show, and the engineers insert them in several picturesque locations where they act like wise guys (New York), surfers (Hawaii) and cowboys (Texas). They are then “whisked away” to “exciting” Delaware. “Delaware,” says Wayne, his face going slack as he struggles with how to act like a Delawarean. “I’m in Delaware.”
Even using Wayne’s World, though, I’d still have to find four others.
Well, as it turns out, I did have to cheat a little bit in Delaware, but not quite to this extent. Finding only a single movie I’d seen on the Wikipedia page devoted to Delaware movies, I expanded my search to include films shot in Delaware. Then, finding a couple others that maybe sorta had parts set in Delaware, I got up to the full complement of five. My sophomore year roommate in college, who hailed from a Delaware town called Bear, would be proud of my persistence.
I always loved the name of that town, Bear, because it rhymes with the state’s name, making it all the funnier. So instead of checking out the thriving metropolis of Wilmington or repeatedly crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I decided to pay homage to my college roommate and make a pilgrimage to his hometown. He doesn’t live there anymore (and I haven’t seen him in 15 years anyway), but Bear is still there, and it was only a small detour to get off I-95 from Maryland and follow route 40 for awhile.
It turns out the place is more prominent than I thought. Here, check out this map I found online:
If you’re really trying to get away from it all — say, to overcome a crippling addiction to alcohol and drugs — I suppose Delaware might be a perfect place to disappear. That was the thinking behind lining up Glenn Gordon Caron‘s 1988 film Clean and Sober (global: #4202) as my Delaware movie. That, and the fact that it was maybe sorta set or filmed there… kind of.
What it’s about
“Rock bottom” rarely arrives at such a specific moment in time as it does for Daryl Poynter (Michael Keaton). Moments after the Philadelphia real estate salesman takes a phone call from a business associate asking about an account he emptied, Daryl realizes that the naked women in bed with him is unresponsive after a drug-induced heart attack. He calls an ambulance, and the police arriving on the scene tell him he could be in serious trouble if the girl dies. Panicking, he tries to find a flight out of the country, only to discover that bad weather has held up all the flights. Instead he seeks refuge in a drug rehabilitation facility in nearby Darby, learning that his anonymity will be protected. Daryl starts with no sincere intention to improve his ways, but a tough rehab counselor (Morgan Freeman), an earnest sponsor (M. Emmet Walsh) and a fellow addict (Kathy Baker) all give him reasons to take a hard look in the mirror. Of course, overcoming an addiction to drugs and alcohol takes a lot more than a hard look in the mirror.
How it uses the state
It doesn’t. This movie takes place in Pennsylvania, mostly in greater Philadelphia. However, the Pennsylvania town of Darby, where the rehab facility is located, is in Delaware County. Plus, IMDB shows one of the filming locations as Claymont, Delaware. So even if we weren’t meant to be seeing Delaware as part of the story, we’re physically looking at Delaware at various parts of Clean and Sober. Score!
What it’s up against
Before we get to my thoughts on the film, let’s duel it against five other Delaware movies I’ve already seen, shall we? As you know if you’ve ever added a film to Flickchart using the “By Title” feature, the new movie goes up first against the movie in the exact middle of your rankings. The outcome of that duel determines whether it faces the film at the 75th percentile or the 25th percentile, and so on, until it reaches its exact right place. With five movies, that means at least two and as many as three duels. Here are the films Clean and Sober will battle:
1) The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky). My Flickchart: #215/3515. Global: #477. My favorite movie of 2008 is, for the most part, a New Jersey movie. What earns it a spot on this list is its final scene. According to a poster seen briefly in the movie, this match — the 20-year anniversary of a famous match between Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) and his chief rival — takes place in Wilmington. What floored me so much about Darren Aronofsky’s film were two things: 1) how much different it was than his most recent previous film, The Fountain, which showcases his jaw-dropping range; 2) how stratospherically great Rourke can be in the right role. As an added bonus, getting a peek inside the little-explored arena of professional wrestling is a lot of fun. However, the dominant mood of this film is melancholy, and Rourke’s sad sack is a character for the ages.
2) Fight Club (1999, David Fincher). My Flickchart: #249/3515. Global: #12. What is it about Delaware movies and fighting? Actually, Fight Club has the second-most legitimate claim among movies on this list to actually being a Delaware movie. Chuck Palahniuk’s book is set there, and though the movie doesn’t actually reference Delaware, Edward Norton‘s business card has a Wilmington zip code and a Delaware area code. His apartment building also bears a sign with the Delaware slogan “A Place to Be Somebody.” A huge favorite of the Flickchart community — it’s ranked #12 of all time — Fight Club is one of those forces of pure cinematic bravura that is respected even by people who don’t really like it. It certainly got plenty of people talking, and it wedged itself in the zeitgeist like a bare-knuckle punch between the ribs.
3) Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012, Lorene Scafaria). My Flickchart: #2294/3515. Global: #2767. It may have taken the apocalypse, but I’ve finally found a movie that’s actually set in Delaware. Part of it, at least. Dodge (Steve Carell) and Penny (Keira Knightley) drive to Dodge’s hometown in Somerset, Delaware in order to find a plane that can take Penny home to England to see her family. Of course, this being the final week before an asteroid destroys Earth, things may not go exactly as planned. I spent most of the first half of 2012 looking forward to this unlikely hybrid of romantic comedy and apocalypse movie, but only a party scene in the first act nails the tricky gallows humor that’s key to its desired tone. Far too much of the movie is just mopey, which may match the mood of the characters, but fails to deliver for the audience.
4) Dead Poets Society (1989, Peter Weir). My Flickchart: #2589/3515. Global: #333. No captain, you’re not my captain. I was very much in the minority in my reaction to Dead Poets Society, and probably would have kept that to myself had not my high school film teacher given me the courage of my convictions about the manipulation going on here. On the surface, Dead Poets seems like an inspirational movie about a galvanizing teacher, as well as a call to arms to seize the day (I learned the phrase “carpe diem” from this movie). However, I’ve always hated the maudlin way Robert Sean Leonard‘s character misapplies the lessons he’s supposed to have learned, which felt contrived and counterfeit. Peter Weir’s film was shot at St. Andrew’s School in Middletown, Delaware, though the school is supposed to be in Vermont.
5) The Village (2004, M. Night Shyamalan). My Flickchart: #2744/3515. Global: #3675. The movie that started M. Night Shyamalan’s steep decline into self-parody has no explicit setting, but given that it’s Shyamalan, there’s a good bet he envisioned it taking place in the greater Philadelphia area. In fact, it was indeed filmed mostly in Pennsylvania — but IMDB tells me the scene “Ivy bumps into a fence” (no joke) was filmed in Centreville, DE. (Sorry, that’s what we’re working with here.) A community of pre-industrial townspeople, who have isolated themselves from the outside world, lives in fear of menacing creatures whose ominous warnings suggest that their shaky truce may be at an end. Shyamalan has some good ideas here, but he betrays them by revealing the inevitable twists too early, sapping all the drama from what becomes a comical ending.
First duel: Clean and Sober vs. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. For addicts going cold turkey, it only feels like the end of the world. Clean and Sober wins.
Second duel: Clean and Sober vs. Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is: Clean and Sober doesn’t beat Fight Club. Fight Club wins.
Clean and Sober finishes third out of the six movies.
The makings of a powerhouse drug addiction movie are present in Clean and Sober. However, like a recovering addict, it seems to take a step backwards every time it gets close to fulfilling its potential.
The film’s biggest problem is that it flubs the stakes for its main character. That’s an especially careless flaw, given that it takes such pains setting them up. Daryl Poynter is up a creek without a paddle after a young woman overdoses in his bed — so much so that he tries to flee the country. He clearly expects to be put behind bars, but when the worst does transpire and she dies, his legal troubles don’t end up presenting an obstacle for him. The film has, by this point, gone into addict movie autopilot, presenting only an extended case study of the rehab-resistant junkie and his struggles within the confinements of a stringent program. Once the movie has shifted to developing the relationships between Keaton and the film’s other three stars — Freeman, Walsh and Baker — the revelation that the girl did in fact die arrives with a thud, and seems to be almost instantly forgotten. Keaton eventually has to answer for some of his misdeeds, but they are the lesser rather than the greater ones. The third-act crisis is of a different variety altogether.
Fortunately, the caliber of the cast overcomes most of the hiccups. Keaton’s manic tics make him a natural to dramatize withdrawal, though he’s actually more contained than you might expect. (Not as contained as Batman would find him the following year, but pretty contained.) Freeman may not crack his broad smile once in this movie, as his soul-wearying burden requires him to help others overcome their urges even while he himself still feels them. Walsh turns in his usual fine work as well. If the film has a weak link, it’s Baker as the addict Charlie. She’s Keaton’s love interest, but their lack of chemistry makes their budding relationship seem like even more of a plot contrivance than it would otherwise. Director Glenn Gordon Caron created the hit series Moonlighting in 1985, but what afflicted the final seasons of that show seems to have seeped over into his directorial debut. Getting David (Bruce Willis) and Maddie (Cybill Shepherd) together famously killed their intoxicating chemistry. The corpse of that chemistry is what Keaton and Baker share.
What pop culture commodity do you think of when you think of New Jersey? The Sopranos, right? Well, they never made a Sopranos movie, but I’m giving you the next best thing: Not Fade Away (2012), the feature directorial debut of Sopranos creator David Chase. For good measure, James Gandolfini — Tony Soprano himself — is in the cast.