This week I decided to watch the 2000 Minne Driver and David Duchovny film Return to Me. Although I wasn’t too impressed with the film itself (it was just a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy, nothing too special) I was pretty impressed with all of the Chicago landmarks I easily spotted throughout the film. The film is about a couple who work together at Lincoln Park Zoo, the wife as zoologist and the husband, Bob, (David Duchovny) as an architect. After a fatal car accident kills the wife her heart is anonymously harvested for a heart transplant to a young woman, Grace (Minnie Driver). In true movie magic fashion the two have a chance meeting, while Bob is dining at the restaurant that Grace’s family owns, and fall in love.
Return to Me trailer
Right off the bat I was immediately impressed with how easily recognizable the setting was of the film, especially to a native Chicagoan. The use of Lincoln Park Zoo was amazing, there were a few scenes that were filmed inside the gorilla enclosure that I was really impressed by. Even the cast was peppered with well-known actors from the Chicagoland area, like Bonnie Hunt (who also directed the film!) and Jim Belushi, who played Grace’s sister and brother-in-law. Even Bonnie Hunt’s real-life surgeon brother and his transplant team played Grace’s surgical staff in the hospital scenes, which were also shot on-location at Michael Reese Hospital!
The Chicago location that was most utilized throughout the film, however, is one that many people might not actually easily recognize. The historic Lincoln Park restaurant Twin Anchors was used as the set for Grace’s family’s restaurant, O’Reilly’s. The two anchors that hang on the back wall of the restaurant were kept in the set’s decor and can even be seen throughout the scenes shot there.
The restaurant wasn’t used in a super obnoxious manner, and the average movie viewer probably wouldn’t even know that it’s an actual place. However, Twin Anchors is an iconic (and sometimes an easily forgotten about) Chicago landmark that played host to celebrities as big as Frank Sinatra in his heyday, so it was great to see it utilized in a large manner.
It’s also fun to pick out errors in locations when a movie is filmed in the city you know and love. In one scene in the film Bob buys Grace a new bike, and tells her that he picked it up for her over at “Rudy’s on Addison.” Wait, didn’t he mean to say Rudy’s on Iriving? As in the bike shop just a few blocks from my house, where I had all of my bikes fixed throughout my childhood? I don’t fully understand why the location of the store had to be changed to a street a few blocks down, but it was a fun error to pick out!
Ever since Wrigley Field announced that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would be the first movie screened there I knew that that film would be my next post. That event occurred weeks ago, and I struggled with why I thought Ferris Bueller was such an epic Chicago film. That’s when it dawned on me…the film is awesome in and of itself, and the fact that it has Chicago landmarks peppered throughout it is just icing on top of the cake.
“The question isn’t ‘what are we gonna do,’ the question is ‘what aren’t we going to do?’”
Ferris Bueller perfectly depicts the all-too-familiar teenage angst to have adventure and escape the boredom of high school. The thrill of wanting to “ live a little” is heightened and more relatable to the audience through the use of a real city as the location for their day of adventure, as opposed to a made-up set design. The viewer can more easily relate to the characters solutions for their need for adventure by personally connecting to and understanding the thrill of their experiences, like leaning over the glass of the Sears Tower, or catching a fly ball at a mid-afternoon Cubs game. You’re not just watching Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron ditch school and dick around for a day, you’re watching them experience adventure throughout Chicago at some of its greatest landmarks, a journey that is realistically do-able. They venture from the Sears Tower to the Stock Exchange, enjoy a baseball game at Wrigley, and ponder the artwork displayed at the Art Institute – this isn’t your average ditch day, these kids get cultured. You envy Ferris because he seems like the world’s coolest and smartest teenager, yet he spends his day off doing things that I could hop on the Blue Line and experience myself. Bonus points that most people can also look back at high school and totally relate to his frustrations about not having a car…
“ I do have a test today, that wasn’t bullshit. It’s on European socialism. I mean, really, what’s the point? I’m not European. I don’t plan on being European. So who gives a crap if they’re socialists? They could be fascist anarchists, it still doesn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car. “
He may not produce the best movies ever released, but Vince Vaughn really knows how to incorporate life as a Chicagoan pretty well into a narrative. The 2 films that he is best known for producing have been 2006’s The Break-Up and 2011’s The Dilemma, both of which he also co-starred in. Having grown up in the northern suburbs of the city (first Buffalo Grove and then Lake Forest) Vaughn has a lot of Chicago pride that he likes to display in his films. The pride and loyalty to his favorite city sports teams is usually what he chooses to spotlight in his films. As a die-hard north side Sox fan (oh, how few of us there are) I would most like to applaud the way Vaughn addressed the Cubs/Sox dilemma in The Break-Up. Wrigley Field is often the preferred venue to film a baseball scene at when filming in Chicago, because the vines (weeds) make it so “classic” (old). Instead of going the easy route and just filming the scene at an average Cubs game Vaughn instead portrayed what baseball fans in Chicago live and die for every summer: the Crosstown Classic. He rocked his Cubs pride in the scene, but also gave a shout-out to both teams.
When filming his 2011 comedy The Dilemma in Chicago, Vaughn took another opportunity to display his pride and excitement for Chicago sports and showcase it on film. By the time the film was released, in January 2011, most of the country had become familiar with the song “Chelsea Dagger” by The Fratellis. To people from Philadelphia the song was like nails on a chalkboard, but to Chicagoans it was our unofficial theme song. The song was popularized by the Chicago Blackhawks as their goal music, played after goals were scored by Hawks players at the United Center. Fresh off of their Stanley Cup victory, Vaughn decided to use the Blackhawks and the United Center as the sport/venue of choice in The Dilemma. Vaughn was a staple at the UC during the playoffs while the Hawks were on their journey to win Lord Stanley, so it only made sense that he would draw upon his personal experiences as a spectator in the stands and incorporate it into his films. I’m sure a lot of Hawks fans grew pretty annoyed at the widespread popularity of “Chelsea Dagger” after the Hawks won the Cup, but when juxtaposed with a Blackhawks scene on film you can’t help but smile and feel like you’re actually at the UC celebrating yet another Hawks goal.
“The Tourism Department must be proud - Navy Pier to MichiganAvenue, LaSalle Street, Trump Tower, to Wacker Drive. Chicago is front and center in the finale of the third Transformer film. For us, seeing familiar landmarks are always fun….seeing the landmarks completely decimated is especially entertaining. “
- Dean Richards, WGN entertainment reporter
Transformers: Dark of the Moon did something that not many other movies often do: it openly acknowledged Chicago as the location of the final battle between the Autobots and Decepticons. Sure there are movies constantly filming in Chicago, but many times they either gloss over the fact that the movie is set in Chicago, or conceal the city as a fictitious location much like The Dark Knight concealed Chicago as “Gotham City”. Transformers, however, throws it right out there for the audience, even using subtitles to alert them to the fact that the location of the movie had changed to Chicago, while the camera displays a sweeping shot of the ever-so-recognizable skyline. The last hour or so of action in the film just bombards the viewer with the downtown area; the ingenious use of wingsuit jumpers helped to display the city from a completely new bird’s-eye-view perspective.
I mean come on, how cool is it to go downtown and see Michigan Ave blocked off because people are jumping off buildings and flying through the air? That’s kind-of awesome. Transformers might have been a completely horrible movie and just an excuse for Michael Bay to use a crapload of special effects and show a hot girl running in slow motion, but seeing the filming process firsthand and then transformed on-screen was an amazing experience. There’s something completely interesting and exciting about seeing the painstaking process of setting up a set in a real location and watching the meticulous filming of it. Also, to walk around the city and see props lining the street really brought it home for me how much time, effort, and attention to detail are put into films. There were boxed of magazines that were to be shredded and scattered throughout the streets during explosions and several blocks were blocked off , solely to be lined with prop cars, all of which had fake Illinois license plates, that were in varying stages of burnt destruction. As much as I hated Transformers as a narrative film, I could watch that last battle scene over and over again, if not just to see how beautiful Michael Bay made our city look as he decimated it.
In the city of Chicago on a hot summer day there is no better way to pass the time than at a baseball game, and with two teams in the city that’s exactly what many Chicagoans choose to do. But imagine going to a baseball game and in addition to the ordinary TV cameras that are located throughout the ballpark you also notice much larger movie cameras, lighting fixtures, heavy security,…and Julia Roberts?! That’s exactly what happened to my father one hot July weekend in 1996 while at a Chicago White Sox game with some friends. Roberts was filming scenes for her romantic comedy My Best Friend’s Wedding in a neighboring sky-box, so of course my father and his friends took the liberty sending her a handwritten invitation to join them for a few beers. She not at all surprisingly ignored that request, but hey it’s still a cool story. Its stories and movies like this that made me fall in love with cinema in Chicago.
14 years after its release My Best Friend’s Wedding is still one of my favorite movies, and a large reason for that is because of the way in which it integrates the city and its landmarks throughout the story. The one thing that strikes me the most about the use of Chicago in the film is how the filmmakers incorporated everyday city life into the filming. Nothing in the city stopped so this movie could be made. It’s not uncommon for Chicago sports to be featured in films, especially now that Vince Vaughn has all of a sudden decided to produce. The difference between his scenes filmed at Wrigley Field (The Break-Up) and the United Center (The Dilemma) in comparison to the scenes from Comiskey Park in My Best Friend’s Wedding is that the Comiskey scenes were filmed during an actual game. The extras in The Break-Up and The Dilemma were picked from their headshots and responses to open casting calls. That wasn’t the case with My Best Friend’s Wedding. That baseball scene was filmed with 30,000 or so screaming White Sox fans that just happened to show up for baseball game on a hot summer day, and got the added bonus of being a part of Hollywood magic.