Random Acts Of Movie Watching: Andy Burns Returns To The ‘Burbs

Thornhill, Ontario, Canada. I don’t know if it gets much more suburban than that town north of Toronto. Not that far north mind you, but far enough away that a bus ride from Don Mills and Steeles to Finch Station to the hop a subway down to Yonge and Bloor felt like a trip of some sort of epic proportion when I was young. I grew up in Thornhill for the most part – spent my teenage years going to shopping centres like Markham Place or Thornhill Square (where the 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead was filmed, donchaknow). Thornhill was where I smoked my first joint, bought my first CD and hung out with friends like ohthree and Pdawg.

Eventually my mother and I moved south of Steeles and I felt a little less like I was in the ‘burbs. Maybe Thornhill was ok to grow up in, even if there wasn’t that much to do, but hitting my 20’s I wanted to be where the action was. When I got my first place on my own, it was at Yonge and Eglinton, what you’d probably consider mid-town. But mid-town wasn’t a bad place to be. You have movie theatres and book stores and cd shops and the subway right there waiting for you, but turn onto one little street and you’re in the comforts of a neighbourhood. A perfect melding, I thought, and still do to this day.

When I moved in with The Queen, it was in her apartment down by Queen St, almost as south as you could get. In Toronto, downtown is Queen-West. You’d think I’d have been happy to live in a fairly hip area of town. Problem is, I’m not particularly hip. Which meant I never quite felt in place. And as my 20’s soon turned into 30, being where the action is wasn’t as important as being where the quiet streets and playing children would be. Maybe the ‘burbs aren’t so bad.

imageJoe Dante’s The ‘Burbs certainly isn’t. I revisited this particular gem from 1989 over the weekend. For those of you that don’t recall, the film stars Tom Hanks, Rick Ducomman and Bruce Dern as three neighbours who are convinced that the new arrivals in their little suburban cul-de-sac are mass murderers and go to various means to prove their suspicions are correct. It’s a black comedy that’s often absurd, but never less than fun (and you Desperate Housewives fans might see some recognizable homes, fyi). The ‘Burbs features great performances from the leads, especially from Hanks, who had yet to become the respectable Oscar-winning mega-star he is today. At the time, he was well-regarded and recognizable, but the film was very quirky and his young, everyman status works really well throughout it. To be honest, I wish Hanks would do more films like The ‘Burbs, films that are a little weird and dark. It seems like most of what he does these days is big and blockbustery, and while The ‘Burbs did well at the box office, it was a smaller film than what Hanks appears in these days. I’d love to see him do a drama along the lines of Chris Nolan’s Insomnia or even a psychological thriller like 1408. Just something a little more intersting and without a toupee. 

Not surprisingly, The ‘Burbs resonates with me now in a far different way than it did when I first saw it 20 years ago. Whereas back then I related to nobody in the film and just saw it was a funny, slightly scary movie, today I’m one of those guys in the movie. Or maybe I’m all of them. I’m the character who just wants to sit around the house on vacation and do nothing. I’m the guy who sees conspiracies wherever I go and who wonders what’s going on in that house down the street where we never see the owners. I’ll sit outside with my neighbour and discuss the moon landing and the potential for aliens amongst us while the Queen waits patiently for me to come inside. I’m the guy who (reluctantly) mows the lawn when I’m told and takes out the trash and recycling because I’m 33, married with child and that’s just what we do, isn’t it?

We moved from Queen-West to the East End. It’s not quite ‘the burbs, but it feels right to me.       

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