Scene Sound Off: Grosse Pointe Blank

Grosse Pointe Blank is an interesting blend of action and violence, romance and dark humor. What saves the film from being so-so is John Cusack’s fantastic lead performance, bringing his sarcastic charm as the flawed protagonist, the longtime bachelor and assassin Martin Blank. Martin returns to his hometown for his high school reunion.

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Martin is unsure about how he’ll feel at the high school reunion, telling his therapist “They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they’ve all made themselves a part of something and they can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? ‘I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How’ve you been?'” Before the days of Facebook, reunions were a minefield of embarrassment, or a competition to see who was doing better in life. Did the football stars and cheerleaders who ruled the school end up with a better life than you? Or worse?

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Martin feels that he has nothing to show for himself, no family or relationship and a morally corrupt job. But he wants to change. And upon meeting up with his old high school flame, he recognizes that maybe now’s the time to start moving his life in another direction. Maybe now it’s time to have a meaningful relationship, a connection with someone. Isn’t that what life is about? Surely a life lived alone can’t have any real meaning?

This short scene sums up Martin’s inner struggle. Martin talks with a former classmate, she talks about how marriage is better than what people say it is. She asks how Martin’s life is, he replies “In progress.” She then asks him to hold her baby as she gets a bottle. The soundtrack music turns up, David Bowie and Queen’s famous “Under Pressure”. This is another perfect moment of film and music.

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We flip back and forth between close ups of the adorable and expressive baby and John Cusack’s curious expression. Martin focuses his on the baby, squinting his eyes and really taking him in. It’s as if he’s saying to himself “I’ve never had feelings like this before. What is this?” The curiosity turns to tenderness, and in the next shot we see him trying to feed the baby his bottle.

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Aside from 80s music being included in the soundtrack for nostalgic purposes, the song fits perfectly. Martin is under pressure himself, his inner thoughts being “Get your life together! You’re at your high school reunion and what do you have to show for it?” The lyrics acutely express Martin’s issues:

Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word,

and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves

Although Martin tries to be cool and seem above falling in love, on the inside he knows that’s not true. Love is not just an old fashioned sentiment or overblown creation by greeting card companies. Love is something real. By falling in love or allowing himself to care about others, (like the people on the edge of the night) he will be opening himself up to some scary feelings and vulnerability. But he knows it is for the better. The only way to truly care about yourself and love yourself, is to reach out and connect with other people.

Grosse Pointe Blank is a romantic and funny film, but the film is absolutely held up by John Cusack’s performance and the writing of an incredibly interesting protagonist. This scene is probably the one most defining scene for his character, what really hooks you into watching his story. Not to mention, it’s got great music.

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Top 10: Coming-of-Age Movies

Growing up is terrifying, confusing, exhilarating, and heartbreaking all at the same time. It is truly the best of times and the worst of times. And once it’s gone, you can never get it back. At times growing up can be pretty hard to navigate. But luckily there are films that so finely depict the adolescent experiences, those turning points in life that everyone goes through.

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1. The Breakfast Club

Really, any of John Hughes movies can be on this list. His films were the defining films of the 80s and the teenage experience. Whether you’re a geek, a jock, a rebel or the popular girl, underneath it all we are all going through the same struggles of youth. The stereotypes strip away to reveal that we are all just as confused and troubled as the next person. Funny, sincere and insightful The Breakfast Club is the quintessential high school movie.

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2. Stand By Me

Nothing means more to a kid than summer. No school, no responsibilities, just the freedom to have adventures with your friends during those hot sticky days and breezy summer nights. But these group of friends are growing older, heading to middle school now, and the end of summer means the end of their innocence is looming. And the most definitive way to mark the end of innocence is the boy’s adventure to go look at a dead body for the first time. Click here to see more thoughts on this renowned coming-of-age film.

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3. The Graduate 

Growing up doesn’t end as soon as you graduate high school, it doesn’t even end when you’re in college. Graduating college is just as confusing of a time, probably one of the most imperative moments where you grapple with the end of youth and the beginning of true adulthood. Benjamin Braddock deals with that awkward post-grad summer in Mike Nichols’ stylish classic. See more of my thoughts on The Graduate here and here.

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4. Boyhood

Quite possibly one of the most genius achievements in cinema. If you don’t know by now, Boyhood was filmed with the same actors over a period of 12 years, so we literally see them growing up before our eyes. We follow Mason from the age of six to eighteen. And it is quite a marvel to see him grow. Boyhood is not a sappy look at the typical milestones of growing up, but instead an intricate portrait of the human experience, true-to-life and fascinating. This film will truly stand the test of time.

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5. The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now is an authentic and sensitive portrayal of teenagers, wonderfully led by Miles Teller accompanied by Shailene Woodley. . This isn’t a typical teen movie, it’s not quite a love story but more about loving yourself. It is honestly mature and moving, but also funny and charming. Hands down one of the best teen movies in years, and something that John Hughes would be quite proud of. See my full review here

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6. Ordinary People 

I think this movie is incredibly overlooked as a coming-of-age film. Perhaps because most coming-of-age stories deal with innocence being lost, and this is innocence being regained. We enter the life of Conrad Jarrett, home from a stay at the mental hospital after a suicide attempt. He is dealing with depression after the death of his brother. And having an emotionally stunted mother doesn’t help. Conrad deals with returning to high school and therapy, adjusting to life after “the accident”. Being a teenager does not mean you are susceptible to mental illness or depression. And Ordinary People shows the importance of regaining what you have lost in dark times, to see the light for your only time of youth.

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7. Perks of Being a Wallflower

The book is immensely popular, and the film does it justice. Of course, it helps that it was directed and written by the book’s author. And thank goodness it was, because this faithful adaptation boasts a great soundtrack and strong performances. Some of the dialogue can be a bit eye-roll inducing to it’s overexposure (We get it – you felt infinite. I’ve seen the quote 1,000 times on Tumblr.) But most notably, it is one of the most sensitive and honest portrayals of teenage angst, bravely delving into issues of incest, depression, and homophobia that other teen films rarely-if ever- touch upon.

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8. Say Anything

The 80s brought a slew of incredible teen films, and Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything is one of them. And you can’t get more 80s than John Cusack holding up a boombox to a Peter Gabriel song. The summer after high school is another confusing time, you’re old life as you knew it is ending- something new and exciting (or something new and awful) is on it’s way, changing your life completely. And what happens when you meet the love of your life the during that life-altering summer? What happens if you’re both from two completely different background? School vs. love vs. obligations to parents…Say Anything covers it all in this heartfelt romance.

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9. The Last Picture Show

The three teen characters in The Last Picture show are fresh out of high school in the year 1951. , Confined in their dead-end town, they are in a rush to grow up as quickly as possible. Jacy deals with her budding sexuality and quest to lose her virginity, in the wake of her realization that she is the prettiest and most sought-after girl in town. Sonny has an affair with the depressed wife of his football coach. Duane enlists for the fight in Korea. Their community is in shambles, and so are they. They only realize before it’s too late that their youth is truly over. The picture show is gone, no more movies or fun at the pool hall.

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10. Mermaids

Mermaids is a charming, funny, and heartwarming film led by Winona Ryder in her adolescent prime. The perfect picture of the moody teenager. But her angst has a sweetness and innocence to it. She deals with her flamboyant mother, her desire to be the most devout Catholic (even though she’s Jewish) and the temptation of a sexy older groundskeeper. Not only a great coming-of-age story, but also a mother-daughter story that perfectly depicts the friction that mothers and daughters go through during those tough teenage years.