Feeling Minnesota: The best Coen Brothers movie not by the Coen Brothers
Every now and then, you find a movie that hits the right note at the right time and produces some imitators. But we're not looking at those. These movies sometimes produce an honest desire to mine this new style, genre, or technique to produce an original work that goes farther into the ground already broken. This, my fine feathered friends, is culture.
Many slasher movies imitated Halloween. But when Nightmare on Elm Street came out, that was culture. Got it? Culture is inspired; imitation is just motivated to make a quick buck.
Pulp Fiction, 1994, had many imitators, and in fact there's a whole den of Quentin Tarantino wannabes out there. But it also begat 1996's 2 Days in the Valley. Never heard of it? What a shame. Another movie you've probably never heard of is 1996's Feeling Minnesota.
Instead of a trailer, let's just swipe a scene from one of our vigilant YouTubers and plop it down with no context whatsoever.
That scene is one very typical of the movie. There's all kinds of stuff going on in various plot threads hovering just out of view. Take our word for it, it all makes quirky small-town sense in context (including the horse trailer in the parking lot, which is a running gag).
But to give this movie a chance, you have to quit thinking "They're trying to be the Coen Brothers" and think "This is a pitch-dark comedy about a very loosely wrapped group of Midwest oddballs who happen to be played by outstanding talents at the top of their skill levels, and my golly gee wow how I appreciate it. And it happens to be in the spirit of Coen Brothers movies, but I will strive not to speculate upon the blue elephant in the room."
Because despite the similarity to the title of Coen Brothers' 1987 Raising Arizona and despite the Coen Brothers' Fargo having come out just two years before and also set in the Northern Midwest, Feeling Minnesota is still its own movie. Pressed from grapes that came from the same vineyard, certainly, but its own bottle of wine anyway.
So, Keanu Reeves and Vincent D'Onofrio are brothers (yeah, I know, but just play along) in a very dysfunctional family. Cameron Diaz is apparently getting a shotgun wedding (gun and all!) to D'Onofrio as a result of scandalous small town politics set up by local hoodlum Delroy Lindo and crooked cop Dan Aykroyd. Diaz barely shakes hands with Reeves before she's jumping his bones and they run away together, and all the parties involved pretty much set out chasing each other in circles.
Like a Coen Brothers' movie, the plot spins its tires non-stop and yet, even though a story has definitely been told by the time we reach the end, not a hell of a lot of the effort of any of the principles got them much in the results department. Even more so than a Coen Brothers' movie, the humor is pitch-black. Literally every single character except for maybe the waitress is despicable in their own way. Everybody is on the take in this white trash podunk, until you have a circle of scammers trying to scam scammers and everybody coming up empty because they all had nothing to start with.
You also have some of the dumbest characters ever, and it takes a special kind of genius for the actors to portray these guys convincingly. They aren't dumb in an obnoxious way, but rather the way we all are at our very dullest, to the point where you can recognize an uncomfortable part of yourself in one scene or another. At one point, D'Onofrio explodes in frustration "I have to think very carefully here. Because now I have to do SOMETHING RIGHT!!!" You can't help but say "It's about time somebody did!" As the soundtrack suggests, these people are indeed in a ring of fire.
Nevertheless, if you're in the right frame of mind, this is one hysterically funny movie. It's like watching Homer Simpson try to pull off a bank heist, moaning at his own lack of smarts. These people know damned good and well that they're low-lifes, they know they have nothing better to look forward to, and they're just scrabbling around trying to better their meager circumstances to turn out to their idea of a fair break. The fact that all of them have a rusty moral compass which taints their idea of "fair" is what dashes their hopes.
And yet, are these not some of the most realistic characters you've even seen portrayed? Tell us you didn't recognize at least three goofballs from your own family reunion. After all, to quote the old English proverb, "He that has no fools, knaves or beggars in his family was begot by a flash of lightning."