It’s August, and two new set-in-Seattle movies have entered theaters — both based on novels by Seattle-based authors. As an addendum to the story we published back in April about how Hollywood movies have depicted our city (Geographical elasticity! Fictional restrooms! Malevolent Monorails! Mysterious Space Needle egress!), here’s a report on how these two films add to the canon. (If you want to know how they stack up as movies, check out my reviews.)
“The Art of Racing in the Rain”
Based on the novel by Garth Stein, this story of a faithful dog and his hard-luck owner (Milo Ventimiglia) is supposedly set almost entirely in Seattle (except for a brief epilogue). But, as so often happens, the filmmakers shot it in our movie twin of Vancouver, B.C., and so Seattleites in the audience will be amused by signs identifying “Ballard Community College,” “Seattle Memorial Hospital” and the “Woodhaven School District,” none of which are actual things.
Points to the movie, though, for trying hard to establish Seattle-ness (Ballard Community College is maybe not a bad idea?); there’s even a reference to “Seattle’s third most popular Soundgarden tribute band.” (There are at least three of them, right?) But they tipped their hand early on: In a scene where it starts raining at a racetrack, you see the crowd leaving, wearing shorts and T-shirts and summer clothing … and carrying umbrellas. In Seattle? In the summer? Not a chance.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”
Maria Semple’s wickedly funny 2012 novel is all about Seattle — so of course it’s mostly shot in Pittsburgh. Suburban Pittsburgh, to be exact, which apparently looks exactly like Seattle, with some scenes shot in Vancouver because … well, because all movies set in Seattle are apparently required to shoot in Vancouver. But there are a few peeks at Seattle here, in addition to the standard establishing shots of the Space Needle looming in a gray-wool rain (another requirement of all Seattle movies).
In one brief sequence, a sunglass’d Cate Blanchett marches through the downtown Seattle Public Library, looking so much like Cate Blanchett that you wonder why nobody’s asking for an autograph. (Does the Seattle Freeze extend to visiting celebrities?) We also see a brief glimpse of a Cherry Street Coffee sign, on an actual Seattle street, and spend a bit of time in the actual Space Needle restaurant, which I initially thought couldn’t possibly be the Space Needle restaurant as nobody onscreen was complaining about the prices.
Elsewhere in this very-Seattle-but-not-in-Seattle movie, it rains a lot; the sort of torrential downpour that we actually rarely see here, causing a “Queen Anne” neighborhood hill to transform into a cascade of mud. We get a glimpse of a very Hollywood-looking Microsoft office, and a very posh neighborhood pharmacy that looks like a Chanel atelier (it has a Chihuly!). Straight from the book, to be sure (that’s where Bernadette picks up her pills), but somehow it’s more jarring on screen. Why doesn’t my pharmacy have a Chihuly?