This is the second post in our “The Best Films Set In…” series. The setting can be a place (like Tokyo), a location (like the beach), or a time (like Winter). In these posts we’re going to pick our 5 favourite films that are set in that particular place/location/time and explain why we like them. Up this week is The Best Films Set In…Smalltown America.
1. Fargo (Ethan and Joel Coen, 1996)
While Fargo isn’t technically a small town (it’s population is 105k+), it certainly has a small town feel and mentality. Francis McDormand shines as Marge, the pregnant police chef who investigates series of murders that have taken place in Fargo. This dark comedy is one of the Coen Brother’s warmest films – while the subject matter and events are dark, Marge and her husband are down-to-earth good people who are caught up in the most unusual and unfortunate of events. Would this film worked as well in a city or a warm environment? I don’t think so – the cold, harsh setting is very much a character in this extremely clever film.
2. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
Set in the town of Bedford Falls, It’s a Wonderful Life is considered by many to be the classic Christmas film. It’s Christmas Eve and George Bailey (James Stewart) has hit rock bottom. He is planning to take his own life, until his guardian angel (which he didn’t know existed) intervenes. Strong themes of family, community, and the impact one person can have on the lives of those around them, make this a heart-warming film which is still relevant today.
3. Stand By Me (Rob Reiner, 1986)
Narrated by [adult] Gordie Lachance, Stand By Me tells the story of young Gordie and his friends who undertake a journey to find a dead body on the outskirts of the small town of Castle Rock. The film is a great example of what childhood in a small town can be like, and the adventures children in these towns might have during the seemingly endless summer holidays. This moving tale of friendship remains one of my favourite films.
4. The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)
Set in a small North Texan town that has long passed it’s golden days, The Last Picture Show is a powerful coming-of-age tale about a group of 1950s high-school students. This film is quite a tough watch, as the town feels soulless and the residents aren’t exactly the nicest, most moralistic of people. Anyone who has lived in an isolated, stagnant town will be able to relate with this film in some way. The black & white film stars a dashing young Jeff Bridges, and contains a stunning film début by the rather gorgeous Cybill Shepherd.
5. Garden State (Zach Braff, 2004)
Andrew Largeman (Zac Braff) returns home to New Jersey from Los Angeles after the death of his mother. Estranged from his family for over 10 years, the homecoming is emotional, amusing (often in a very awkward way), and surprisingly poignant. Garden State features a great soundtrack that compliments the film perfectly – it was awarded the Grammy award for ‘Best Compilation Soundtrack for a Motion Picture’.
Honourable Mentions: Super 8, Blue Velvet, A History of Violence, Groundhog Day.
Other Suggestions: Several people suggested Napoleon Dynamite, but I’m sorry to say that I am one of the only people that doesn’t “get” that film. I just didn’t find it funny…..*waits for hate comments*. Mean Creek, The Straight Story, and Shotgun Stories were all suggested by more than one person, but sadly I am yet to see these films. Winter’s Bone and There Will Be Blood were also put forward, but I consider these to be set in frontier towns/settlements, and not what I would typically think of as “smalltown” America.
Thank you everyone for your great suggestions. It was really hard to pick only five, and I’m not entirely sure that I’ve made the right call. If I’ve missed something, please let me know in the comments!