Escanaba in da Moonlight

Escanaba In Da Moonlight. Purple Rose Productions 2000.
Escanaba In Da Moonlight. Purple Rose Productions 2001.

Before watching the movie:

Jeff Daniels plays a hunter who has to end his dry spell soon, prompting a change of habits or superstitions or something. Weird things happen. I really don’t know what to expect.

I think this started as a play, since I recall first hearing of it as a community theater production.

After watching the movie:

Reuben Soady grew up in a hunting family in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. At 43 years old, he’s dangerously close to being the oldest Soady to never bag a buck. Convinced he’s cursed, when he joins his father, his brother, and Jimmer (cousin? friend?) at the Soady deer camp for deer season, he declares he’s going to break the Soady traditions this year and instead use Native American rituals from his wife to try to do everything he can to come home with a buck this year, which the guys reluctantly go along with. Then some magical, scary, silly, unexplainable things happen.

When this show is funny, it’s hilariously absurd. It’s hardly sophisticated humor (they spend several minutes trying to get Reuben out of a trance by shoving his face into a sleeping Jimmer’s butt and waiting for him to fart), but they’re just so committed to the over-the-top antics that I can’t help but be amused. I particularly enjoyed Reuben beginning an incantation by blowing a pitch pipe and then launching into a completely un-pitched chant that lasts until the daylight is long gone.

When it’s not being funny, it’s being inscrutable. It’s all tied up in unexplained phenomena that’s supposed to all lead up to personal growth for Reuben, but it seems like a bunch of weird stuff happening for no reason until suddenly Reuben’s had enough and goes off to find the Weird Thing that holds his personal catharsis. I understand the ending more or less, but I don’t understand how any of the supernatural stuff leading up to it had anything to do with it. I’ve read that this is supposed to be a story of how family will make sacrifices to help each other out, but what I came away with was “guys locked in a hunting lodge get poked with the Supernatural stick until something meaningful happens”.

This is very much a Yooper story. I can tell from the writing that Jeff Daniels (writer/director) is probably from “the Superior State” and this is likely a love letter to his birthplace. Everyone has accents thicker than stereotypical Canadians, they use regional slang so thick outsiders can barely understand it, and they reference regional places and brands with confidence. I’m sure this movie is all the more meaningful to someone actually from the culture, which I’m not.

 

Watch this movie: with pasties, Leinenkugel’s, and a shotgun.

Don’t watch this movie: for nonstop hilarity or coherent meaning.

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