Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, a newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, retrospectives, recommendations, and more. You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article to receive future editions in your inbox.
Meanwhile in the margins, a number of other selections have been on our radar. For one reason or another, we might have passed over dedicating an entire article to these ones. However, we’d be remiss to gloss over them entirely.
So this week we’re catching up on a small batch of recent movies and shows with rural relevance. In our hectic entertainment landscape, these titles (and their rural connections) could be easily overlooked, but they remain worth your time.
‘The Green Knight’
Are the tales of Arthurian legend rural stories? I’m not fool enough to try answering that question here, but I will make the case for “The Green Knight” as a great rural movie with little hesitation. Anyone who read “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” in English class will know the basic contours of this story, but this is an excellent adaptation whether you know the source material or not. It remains elegant in its simplicity.
As Gawain ventures forth from the castle walls out into a wild and dangerous world beyond, his pilgrimage offers ample opportunity for the film to present a variety of lush landscapes. On the surface level, it’s a rural film because of how it draws on these environments to drive the action and test the characters’ mettle. On a deeper level, the film’s themes concern mankind’s relationship with our natural world and what it means to live a virtuous life.
The titular “Green Knight” is the tangible vehicle for delivering on those themes, and in his design and his environs he is a definitively rural entity. It speaks to how our roots as a species are rural — before our cities and castles, we were creatures of the land, like all the rest — and how our search to find meaning and confront the big moral questions of life often leads us back to places where those roots can still be seen and felt.
“The Green Knight” is what you might call an indie or arthouse film, which is to say, relative to bigger studio products it’s a comparatively slow, sparse, soft-spoken work. But if you meet it on those terms, you’ll find a deeply thought-provoking work that sticks with you in both its imagery and its substance. I was quite affected by the ending in particular, which is designed to leave you with more questions than answers, as you look back on all the details that led up to the concluding event. It cements that this is a timeless tale told well, and there are few things better than that.
“The Green Knight” is widely available to buy or rent on disc and via digital media platforms.
Prior to its latest installment, you’d be hard pressed to find a major film series less rural than Ghostbusters. The series is indelibly linked with Manhattan; it trades on the iconic geography of the mega metropolis for setting the scene and showcasing its biggest set pieces. Yet, with last year’s sequel/reboot “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” the franchise took a break from NYC and headed down a path less traveled by setting the action on a farmhouse near the small, fictional town of Summerville, Oklahoma.
The switch-up translates pretty well in my view. Watching the Ecto-1 cruise through wheat fields and pesky ghosts wreak havoc on a small-town main street brings some much needed freshness to the formula. Likewise, old mine sites and derelict farms offer a great backdrop for the film’s occult foundations. All told, it’s a much more interesting visual experience than yet another take on New York’s familiar architecture would likely be.
You’ve perhaps heard about the film’s heavy use of fan service, references, and call backs. This sort of thing can be emblematic of the worst excesses of modern franchise filmmaking. The trend of never-ending sequels, spin-offs, and reboots of the same old properties is something we can rightfully bemoan, but I didn’t mind cutting “Afterlife” a little extra slack. The main reason being that its director (and co-screenwriter), Jason Reitman, is the son of Ivan Reitman, director of the two original Ghostbusters films. Given that the elder Reitman recently passed away, just a few months after the film’s original release date, watching it for the first time now also hits differently. It is a big budget blockbuster movie, yes, but the family roots give it a more personal touch, bolstering its attempts to serve as a sincere tribute and a labor of love.
My only gripe: in its closing moments, the film appears to bring the focus right back to NYC, effectively resetting to a comfortable status quo. Making these characters short-term visitors to their new backdrop feels like an uninspired shortcut in my view. C’mon Ghostbusters, why not stick around rural America for a while?
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is widely available to buy or rent on disc and via digital media platforms.
I nearly wrote about “Somebody Somewhere” for a previous article, before “Welcome to Flatch” narrowly gained an edge. Based on glowing reviews and recommendations from friends, it remains near the top of my list of shows to watch. In the meantime, I asked my colleague Joel Cohen to offer his thoughts on why it’s worth your attention too:
“Somebody Somewhere” is one of the easiest watches on TV. Yes, it’s kinda slow. Not much happens during some of the episodes. The main character can barely make it through the day. But you can’t help but root for her, and for the supporting characters, who are an unusual bunch.
This is a coming-home comedy where main character Sam returns to small-town Kansas when one of her sisters is diagnosed with a terminal illness. After her sister’s death, Sam has a hard time finding her place.
There’s a saying that home is where they must take you in. This show turns that on its head. Sam’s not sure she wants to call this home; regardless, home is trying to take her in.
Her family is broken by an alcoholic mother, a father who is trying to keep his farm alive, and a surviving sister whose husband has secrets. Sam knows they need her, and she loves them, but she is not sure she has the strength to be their savior.
The people she meets and friends she makes are trying to find connection for her. Joel, Sam’s new best friend (they knew each other in high school but weren’t “friends”), acts as a guide to reacquaint Sam to the people and activities of the town. There’s something called “Choir Practice” that is a cross between a cabaret show and speakeasy. Sam, once an aspiring singer, gets the guts to go on stage and kills it. For a moment she belongs.
Things do happen on the show. Cookouts, town retail competitions, revelations about Sam’s brother-in-law, tornadoes. The show is driven by its dryness. It’s not paced like many comedies. That’s a compliment. The viewer needs to pay attention — it’s not a traditional sitcom; it is made to make people feel and laugh, in that order.
Season 1 of “Somebody Somewhere” is currently airing on HBO and streaming on HBO Max and a second season is in the works.
More Rural Movies and Shows Await
In putting together this batch of recommendations, we quickly realized we could only scratch the surface. When you actually look back and comb through a list of titles, you realize that 2021 and 2022 (thus far) have produced a lot of interesting media with rural connections. We may circle back to more of those in weeks to come, but until then I ask you: what have you been watching and enjoying lately?
Send me your recommendations or even a quick blurb like the ones above, and I’ll highlight your choices in a future article.
This article first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, recommendations, retrospectives, and more. Join the mailing list today to have future editions delivered straight to your inbox.