Take a cinematic road trip with one film which best represents each of the 50 states
As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day.
Every day this week, we'll be taking a cinematic road trip through all 50 states of America – what are the clichés, the archetypes, and the shining examples that represent each state's individualistic character? We split the US into five regions (the Pacific, the Southwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, the Atlantic). So hop in the car for the United States of Cinema.
If you were to choose a film for each American state – one that best describes the character of the place – trends start to emerge. There are the obvious clichés (horse films in Kentucky), and the inconspicuous (coming-of-age dramas in Illinois). Surveying the Wikipedia listings of which films were set in which states, we combed through to pick the best films that represent each of their respective states.
ILLINOIS – The misbehaved and the coming-of-age
BAD BOYS (1983) – RICK ROSENTHAL
After Fast Times at Ridgemont High and before Risky Business, a juvenile Sean Penn played Chicago crime kid Mick O'Brien. A gang of high school kids struggle to make ends meet, so they resort to a life of crime. When Mick O'Brien sets out to rob some drug dealers, he ends up killing Paco Moreno's kid brother, and has to serve time in the clink.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Bad Boys is Scum meets The Warriors. Bringing it to the streets during Chi-town's crime-fuelled early 80s, this movie is a disobedient dream overwrought with youth gang violence and jail-time struggle. It was a precursor to Natural Born Killers, also set in Illinois.
Although Illinois often featured as the setting of 1001 John Hughes films (Ferris Bueller and The Breakfast Club each had roots in the fictional North Shore suburb called Shermer, Illinois), the real Chicago was the domain of the miscreants who set America's third largest centre on fire. If you want some great visuals of Chicago, try Chris Columbus's Adventures in Babysitting.
Other films set in Illinois: Pretty in Pink, Wayne's World, Natural Born Killers, Mean Girls, Ordinary People, Weird Science
IOWA – There must be more than this provincial life
WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE? (1993) – LASSE HALLSTROM
Johnny Depp and Leo DiCaprio were – at least for a duration of 118 minutes – the two most lovable brothers in cinema. In their dead-end town of Endora, Iowa, Gilbert Grape (Depp) has to look after his brother with special needs (DiCaprio) and shelter his obese, house-bound mother. Everything seems hunky dory, until it's all upset by the arrival of a love interest in the form of Juliette Lewis. Back when it was shockingly PC to say the r-word, DiCaprio revealed to Film Review how he prepared for the role: "I had to really research and get into the mind of somebody with a disability like that. So I spent a few days at a home for mentally retarded teens. We just talked and I watched their mannerisms."
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Kind of strangely coincidental that Juliette Lewis played a girl with special needs in The Other Sister, but that's beside the point. What's Eating Gilbert Grape is – controversy alert – Leonardo DiCaprio's finest piece of acting. Plus, with all of the "struggle is real" films set in Iowa, this one is by far the most endearing.
Other films set in Iowa: Sleeping with the Enemy, Field of Dreams
MICHIGAN – Suburban dysfunction
THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1999) – SOFIA COPPOLA
The languid, summery girl sandwich that was Sofia Coppola's directorial debut remains as a paragon of suburban dysfunction. And Josh Hartnett as the jock dream Trip Fontaine isn't really a tough concept to get your head around. Five sisters, sheltered by their strict parents, are a constant magnet for the peeping toms of the neighbourhood. What is up with the Libsons? As the plot unravels, the film (based on the book by Jeffrey Eugenides) gives us a deeper glimpse into the crumbling world of these five girls, and the ending gives us the chills.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Some funky stuff happens in the suburbs. Vampires live there (Only Lovers Left Alive) alongside musical genius recluses (Searching for Sugarman). But perhaps the creepiest of all is the seemingly normal families who aren't all what they seem on the surface.
Other films set in Michigan: Prom, Only Lovers Left Alive, Tape, Raging Bull, Searching for Sugarman
MINNESOTA – The quirk factor
DROP DEAD GORGEOUS (1999) – MICHAEL PATRICK JANN
Before Honey Boo Boo, before Dance Moms, before Kirstie Alley was fat, there was Drop Dead Gorgeous. Allison Janney is in this film. Annette Barkin gets a can of beer fused to her hand. This pageant comedy is about all of those hard-won, sash-sporting middle America eccentrics that nurture their public speaking at Toastmasters. Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) is a non-chalant girl next door who competes against rich and religious Becky Leeman, daughter of a former winner. In their Waiting for Guffman-like asides, the contestants talk to the camera as if it really were a strange, backwaters making-of documentary.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Mostly for the scene when religious contestant Becky (played by Denise Richards) de-velcros the arms of a stuffed, crucified Jesus during her dance number and wraps them around her. What is love, if not being cradled by the arms of a stuffed Jesus? But in the state of 10,000 lakes, even the most serious films contain a hint of quirk, and this one isn't shy in showing them off.
Other films set in Minnesota: Fargo, Juno, Drop Dead Fred, North Country
INDIANA – Don't hate the player, hate the game
HOOSIERS (1986) – DAVID ANSPAUGH
Kind of like Coach Carter minus Samuel L. Jackson, this based-on-a-true-story basketball saga is the ultimate story of redemption – an all-American "we're all winners" brouhaha about a team led to victory by Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman). Dale finds an unlikely partner in the town drunk (Dennis Hopper), who can help to coach this mish mash team to state finals. It's definitely one of those movies that will have you on the edge of your seat when the basketball is slowly flirting with the rim, but this David Anspaugh vehicle is one heck of a slam dunk.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Despite Indiana being home of the The Old Man's venerable leg lamp in A Christmas Story, there is an indisputable cesspool of sweaty jocks sprouting up among the Hoosier state's tall grasses. Baseball (Soul of the Game), basketball (American Teen, The Winning Season), football (Rudy) – any ball finds a glove or hoop in Indiana.
Other films set in Indiana: American Teen, Rudy, A Christmas Story, Life
NEBRASKA – Circumstances beyond their control
BOYS DON'T CRY (1999) – KIMBERLY PEIRCE
The courageous, true story of Brandon Teena – a trans man who is beaten, raped and murdered – is one hell of a harrowing journey. While not the most light-hearted of the bunch, this is a must watch. Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) moves to Falls City, Nebraska, and befriends all the wrong people – including Lana (Chloë Sevigny), a smooth-talking babe whose future career lies in karaoke. Lana catches the eye of Teena, and he secretly falls in love with her. When Teena's secret is discovered, he becomes the target of physical and sexual abuse.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Nebraska loves a bit of circumstantial harassment that a character must overcome (Children of the Corn, anyone? Bad place for a breakdown). Unfortunately, Teena never got that chance. Kimberly Peirce's directorial debut is an unsettling, raw look into this unfortunate true story.
Other films set in Nebraska: About Schmidt, The Indian Runner, Nebraska
NORTH DAKOTA – Oil
CRUDE INDEPENDENCE (2009) – NOAH HUTTON
This documentary follows the fate of North Dakota's sleepy town of Stanley in the wake of a modern day oil boom. There are those who own mineral rights (who become overnight millionaires), and there are those who are left with nothing. High school dropouts flock to the Peace Garden state's man camps to make a five-figure salary pumping oil.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: This will give you a pretty good idea of what reality is for North Dakotans and the price tag we put on oil. The Overnighters – another slippery doc – examines how these out-of-towners affect the communities ravaged by the discovery of oil.
Other films set in North Dakota: The Overnighters
OHIO – Disillusioned weirdo kids
GUMMO (1997) – HARMONY KORINE
"A few years ago, a tornado hit this place," Harmony Korine's Gummo begins with Solomon's voiceover. "I saw a girl fly through the sky, and I looked up her skirt." What follows after that opening montage is a visual twister of the bizarre: Chloë Sevigny's nipples plastered with electric tape, a gay black midget who is really good at arm wrestling, a boy who eats spaghetti in a bathtub. This one's not for the faint of heart. During the promo trail, Korine once again stopped by David Letterman's late night show after previous wacky stints, only to be laughed at by the audience in a cringe-inducing 8-minute segment.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Ohio seems to be the land of fucked up youth (at least in film). In Heathers, Winona Ryder blows up the school with nary a laugh or look back. Lolita is so sexually self-aware at the age of 12 (in the film, to scoot past MPAA censors, her age was raised to around 14), it's discomfiting. The Kings of Summer sees three boys ditch life in the 'burbs with stifling parents for their own, self-governed kingdom in the forest. Gummo, by all accounts and measures, ties together all of the weird in one of the most off-kilter arthouse flicks to be released. The best part, another montage set to Roy Orbison's "Crying", shows the true beauty of this madcap, underrated state.
Other films set in Ohio: Heathers, Super 8, The Kings of Summer, Lolita, Liberal Arts, ThanksKilling
SOUTH DAKOTA – The accused (rightly or wrongly)
BADLANDS (1973) – TERRENCE MALICK
Young, impressionable teen girl falls in love with working class schmuck who can't see the forest for the trees. They go on a killing spree until they get caught. This might sound familiar if you've seen the almost-remake: Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. Or Wild at Heart. Apparently all three drew inspo from IRL murderer Charles Starkweather.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Terrence Malick has a cameo in Badlands, which is cinema geek gold. The reclusive director played "the man that rings the rich man's door" because the original actor didn't show up. There is also that crucial scene from Richie Rich, set at Mount Rushmore, which we've taken into account for this. But Malick comes out on top.
Other films set in South Dakota: North by Northwest, Dances with Wolves
WISCONSIN – The impossible dream
AMERICAN MOVIE (1999) – CHRIS SMITH
You know those people who try out for American Idol and then the judges say, "Have you ever recorded yourself singing and listened back to it before?" and the answer is always no? There are some people who just won't give up on their dreams, no matter how ill-matched their talent (or lack thereof) is to the project. For Mark Borchardt, his dreams are to make his feature film, Coven (rhymes with woven). Despite a lack of money, a rookie cast and no real structure, he plows on, to the detriment of basically everyone.
WHY WE CHOSE IT: This is perhaps the best meta-documentary about the making of a movie in existence. It's hilarious, and so, so underrated. In Wisconsin, nobody is willing to give up on their dreams, even when they are so far out of reach not even a leg-up would help.
Other films set in Wisconsin: Lars and the Real Girl, Dawn of the Dead