Friday, January 25, 2013

The four most Minnesotan moments in 'Fargo'

When folks from other parts of the country learn I live in Minnesota, they usually ask three things: 1) Does it really get that cold there? 2) Do you know Prince? 3) Is it just like Fargo? The answers are, of course, 1) Yes. 2) No. 3) Sorta. The Coen brothers’ classic isn’t a documentary by any means, but it gets a lot of things exactly right.

"Well, that don't sound like too good a deal for him, then." 
I know quite a few Minnesotans who resent Fargo because “we don’t really talk like that.” It’s true that some of the accents are far broader than you’ll usually hear in the Twin Cities metro region, but some are so spot-on that all is forgiven. No performance is more Minnesotan than Bain Boehlke as the deadpan Mr. Mora, the bartender who takes a break from shoveling to tip the cops off to a funny-looking guy “goin’ crazy out dere at da lake.”  My mom’s family is from Coon Lake, a rural community about 30 miles north of Saint Paul. If one of her uncles had ever been a vital witness in a murder case, the police interview would have sounded almost exactly like this.

Good Company
Steve and Sharon Edelman are members of the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame for good reason. Their dopey, cheery chat show Good Company was a local institution throughout the ‘80s, an oasis of gentle good-nature in the desert of daytime TV depravity. In other words, it’s exactly what a suburban housewife like Jean Lundegaard would be chuckling softly at over her knitting on a snowy weekday afternoon.

“It’s always more!”
The most unsung hero of the Fargo ensemble is Gary Houston as the frustrated customer trying to cut through Jerry Lundegaard’s car dealer double-speak. He embodies Minnesota Nice stretched to its breaking point. Everything about his delivery of “You lied to me, Mr. Lundegaard. You’re a bald-faced liar. A… fffucking liar!” is Minnesotan to the core. As angry as he is, he still addresses Jerry as “Mr. Lundegaard” in a show of respect for his position, and of disappointment that Jerry isn’t earning that respect. And then there’s that brief pause. That split second of silence tells us that this is a guy who never curses. Even here, in a situation that obviously calls for it, he has to psych himself up before pulling out the big guns. (Jerry has a point, though. In a Minnesota winter, you’re gonna want the Tru-Coat.)

Jerry’s frozen meltdown
Granted, Jerry is venting frustration with something a little bigger than a Minnesota winter here. Still, there’s not a motorist in the upper Midwest who can’t sympathize with this scene. The misery of chopping away at a thick-caked windshield, knowing that the immediate reward for your labor will be a soul-killing commute down ice-slicked highways, is enough to make anybody flip out. What makes this scene quintessentially Minnesotan, though, is Jerry’s follow-up to his brief tantrum. He picks up the scraper, collects himself and gets back to the loathsome task at hand. That’s what you do in these parts, mainly because it’s all you can do.

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