As the school season begins, we’ll be counting down a variety of back-to-school movies and TV shows.
Going back to school isn’t just for kids. Every 10 years or so, adults are invited to revisit their high school days at a reunion. Lukewarm buffet food is served, cheap beer is sloshed, and everyone strives to make their life sound just a little more interesting than it actually is.
Enter Grosse Pointe Blank, the rare romantic comedy to earn an R rating for “strong violence.” John Cusack stars as Martin Blank, a sad-sack hit man with a severe case of ennui. With no meaningful relationships apart from his assistant, and the blood of countless targets on his hands, his life needs a shakeup — and an invitation to his 10-year high school reunion offers the perfect chance to do a little soul-searching.
On the advice of his therapist, Martin heads back to Grosse Pointe, Michigan, reconnecting with friends, family, and the justifiably bitter ex-girlfriend he abandoned on prom night. In one of the film’s sharpest gags, Martin repeatedly admits that he’s spent the past decade killing people, which people invariably take as a sarcastic joke.
Of course, leaving the hit man life behind is easier said than done. Martin’s attempts to atone for his sins and figure out a new path in life are interrupted by everything from a jealous professional rival to a final hit he’s required to carry out.
The offbeat blend of quippy dialogue and surprisingly visceral violence could easily have failed to cohere, but Grosse Pointe Blank succeeds on the strength of a clever, biting script and an expertly chosen cast that includes appearances by everyone from Dan Aykroyd to Hank Azaria to Jeremy Piven. In the lead roles, Cusack and Minnie Driver each turn in career-best performances, parrying back and forth in a perfect emulation of the whip-smart banter that defined screwball comedies.
Grose Pointe Blank is also interwoven with one of the strongest soundtrack albums released in the 1990s — so popular and well-received that Polygram actually released a second volume later that year to capitalize on the success.
All in all, Grosse Pointe Blank is a delight — a weird, funny, bloody little gem of a movie that straddles the lines of a half-dozen genres and makes it look easy.