Grand Canyon (1991) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Lawrence Kasdan's "Grand Canyon" precipitated a wide range of responses.

Roger Ebert gave it four stars, several people picked it on their top ten lists in 1991, and I saw it on a top ten list for the entire 1990's.

On the other hand, Leonard Maltin gave it two stars, and a lot of reviewers hated it. Maltin summed up the negative case by saying that it was mushy and superficial, and others said that it was too filled with coincidences.

The tone of the movie is unusual, because it is imbued with a sort of North American magic realism, an almost mystical attitude in which people intervene in other people's lives, in order to better them. That "cavalry to the rescue" mentality can be unbelievable in spots but, damn, the dialogue is good. So honest. Maybe more honest than people ever really are with each other. And that's what makes it so unusual in tone, because it is filled with people doing uncharacteristic, unusual, and somewhat miraculous things, while talking about it in a way that expresses how people really would feel about those things.


Mary-Louise Parker does a very brief topless scene in a dream sequence.
If you accept the events, the talk is really terrific. Its' the kind of movie that you can't fast forward. There isn't really any plot or action to fast forward to. You either shut it off because it's not your kind of movie, or you turn up the volume so you can hear every word of dialogue.

It begins with Kevin Kline (Kasdan's permanent lead!) in the same position that begins "Bonfire of the Vanities". His car breaks down in a tough neighborhood, he calls for a tow, and they tell him - an hour! He's about to get his ass kicked or worse, when a guardian angel appears. Danny Glover pulls up with a tow truck, long before expected, and defuses the situation. As the movie progresses, several other people decide that they either must become guardian angels or that they need one. Kline's wife, for example, adopts a baby that she finds in the bushes. She knows that she must intervene in the baby's life, just as Glover intervened in her husband's.

Looking back on it, I think that Kasdan continued the story he has been telling all his life, the story of the baby boomer generation. Just as The Big Chill kind of summed up where the boomers were in the 80's, this film sort of summed up the new age spirituality that crept in in the 90's, when boomers started to despair about the condition of the world they had once hoped to remake, and turned inside themselves for answers.

If you want to be cynical, you could say "it is SO 90's". Or you could say it is no "Body Heat" or "The Big Chill". This seems to me like the same kind of criticism that led people to boo Bob Dylan when he used an electric guitar, or the Beatles when they gave up bubble gun rock. Hell, I like Kasdan's movies, and I don't expect him to keep remaking the same one. I reckon he'll keep growing and keeping us apprised of his generation's story.


I am afraid there is no point/counterpoint here between Scoopy and myself. I agree this is a brilliant film. The most amazing thing about it for me is that it holds my interest despite having essentially no plot, and no central conflict. It does have a lot of honesty, and manages to make me like nearly every character. One of the things that ties the collection of somewhat inter-related characters together is a central theme. I think Danny Glover as Simon summed it up when he said, "The bad shit is going to happen no matter what. If you are lucky, there will be some good stuff too."

The film is all about the importance of perspective, and the Grand Canyon is used to show that, from a broad perspective, we and our troubles are pretty small. I have to give this a solid B. Unless you hate this genre, you should see this film.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1. Looks good.

  • no memorable features. The trailer and a very brief featurette.


Yup, I like the movie. I don't think it's fair to do what Maltin did in his critique - to describe it in such a way that it gets lumped together with orchestrated mush like "Pay it Forward". It is not that. In fact, every time a character starts to spew some bullshit about changing his life or someone else's, the other characters tell him it's bullshit.

It used some very effective techniques to share the character's feelings with us, as opposed to simply showing us those feelings. The first scene, for example, managed to create tension very effectively with the slow camera work and the music. I was really feeling Kline's fear, and then sharing his subsequent sense that Glover had brought him back to life, and to see life more clearly than before.

Like "The Big Chill", the movie features a good ensemble cast, perhaps thinking more than we really think, perhaps telling the truth more directly that we usually tell it, but doing so in a way that becomes literary cinema and eventually glows with its own special light.

The Critics Vote

  • No consensus. Ebert 4/4, Maltin 2/4.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.7.
  • With their dollars ... a mid-level success, wth $33 million domestic. (Was considered disappointing at the time)
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B from both of us. Not without flaws, contrived and almost completely plotless, yet a touching look at people dealing with the insanity of urban life, and trying to keep it all in perspective. If the situations are exaggerated, their reactions are not.

Return to the Movie House home page