I realize I’ve done my fair share of complaining about living in Pittsburgh, but one thing that really excites me about living here is catching glimpses of the city in some major feature films. I’ve never really lived in a place that has been featured on the silver screen (unless you count Savannah, Georgia, and let’s be honest, they’re really milking the 1997 film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil for all it’s worth). It can be a bit surreal to see famous actors and actresses on the big screen running around some of the same landmark locations that I’ve frequented before. In the past (nearly) year since we’ve moved here, I’ve made it my fun weekend project to watch as many Pittsburgh films as possible, and I’ve compiled a little list for you here in case you’re interested:
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower (PG-13, released in 2012): Starring Emma Watson (from Harry Potter, whoop! :-)) and Logan Lerman (from the Percy Jackson films), this movie is a decidedly more adult step for two of my favorite child actors. The story details the freshman year of Charlie, a quiet, socially awkward kid who is dealing with the recent tragic death of his best friend. This movie deals with serious issues like drug use, mental disorders, homosexuality, and hazing/bullying, and it doesn’t necessarily promote the most positive messages for the teen audience that it seems to be targeting. All in all, I enjoyed some parts of the movie, but some scenes were too depressing or disturbing for naive little me.
Honestly, the reason I became most interested in seeing this movie was because of the local police here in Pittsburgh. There is a noteworthy scene in the film that was heavily promoted in advertisements and previews in which Emma Watson’s character crawls into the bed of the truck and stands with arms outstretched as they drive through the Fort Pitt tunnel. At the same time that these movie ads were airing on TV, the local police were also airing a public service announcement warning us to please remain in our cars as we drive through the Fort Pitt tunnel (or any Pittsburgh tunnels for that matter), and never try to recreate the scene on our own. I don’t know who would want to jump out of their car while riding through the tunnel (it wouldn’t be quite as glamorous as Emma made it look in the movie…the inside of the tunnel is actually pretty grimy and full of exhaust fumes), but I suppose someone must have, for them to actually put together a PSA to air on TV.
- Abduction (PG-13, released in 2011): Starring Taylor Lautner of the Twilight films, Abduction was Taylor’s sad attempt at becoming America’s next in-demand action star. Taylor Lautner plays Nathan, a typical high school student whose school report using a missing persons website online uncovers his own childhood photo–Nathan realizes that he’s been listed as a missing person for years. This discovery turns into a race against time to figure out who his true parents are, all while winning the heart of a beautiful classmate and having several close scrapes with a group of murderous conspirators who would have him destroyed. Pretty believable, right?
The two most unbelievable things for any Pittsburgher who watches this movie have more to do with the way the city is portrayed than anything. For one thing, Nathan and his friends are seen at a party at the beginning of the film, bragging to each other about how they scored impossible-to-find tickets to a coveted Pirates game at PNC Park…a what? True, the Pirates may be having a good season this year, but in the past, their reputation for failure was something of a local inside joke. Certainly in the year 2011 (when the film takes place), it would have been easy to “score” tickets to a Pirates game for $10 each from a scalper standing outside of the stadium about five minutes before the first pitch of the game. I’ve never seen the seats at PNC park quite as full as they were in the climatic scene of this movie. If they were going for a local team affiliation, why not just choose the infinitely more popular Steelers?
There’s also a scene where Taylor Lautner’s character is forced to swim through the Allegheny River to escape the bad guys trying to kill him. Eww! It really must have been a life-or-death situation, because anyone who has seen the Allegheny River up close would have to have a gun held to their head before they’d voluntarily swim through that kind of muck and sludge. There are all kinds of nasty local rumors about what one might find at the bottom of the river…or what kind of chemical detox would be necessary for a person who accidentally fell into the river.
- The Dark Knight Rises (PG-13, released in 2012): So, this movie is something of a point of pride with most local Pittsburgh residents. and it’s so widely popular, I don’t think I even owe you any sort of plot synopsis. Any random person on the street would be happy to tell you how cool is was to be here while the film was in production and Pittsburgh was temporarily turned into Gotham City for a few of the movie’s scenes. We have some friends who live in a house on the North Shore with an excellent view of the city. They described to us how surreal it was to get ready for bed in the evening and see the bat signal blazing brightly in the night sky through their window. Just rub it in a little more, guys. They had to film it RIGHT before we moved to Pittsburgh, didn’t they?
- The Next Three Days (PG-13, released in 2010): Starring Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, this movie is an action-packed thriller about a man who becomes obsessed with breaking his wife out of jail when she is falsely (or rightly?) accused of murder. This is actually a really good movie! Though it has its unbelievable points, I was invested in the characters and I kept holding my breath during the hurry-hurry-hurry scenes when the characters had close scrapes with the authorities. The Pittsburgh Zoo and the Allegheny County Jail are featured heavily in this film. One I’ve visited, and the other I’ve (fortunately) never seen in person, but only on the local news.
- Won’t Back Down (PG, released in 2012): Starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, this is an inspiring movie based on the true story of two women who aren’t satisfied with the education that their children are receiving, and they are determined to do whatever it takes to raise the bar and fight for their children’s’ futures. I’m not totally sure how I feel about this movie, considering it’s a pretty abrasive attack on teachers and teacher unions, and I feel like our profession is under attack enough already. The Pittsburgh setting is also pretty random, considering the true events that this film is based on did not actually occur in Pittsburgh. Not surprisingly, the locals aren’t quite as excited about this movie being filmed in Pittsburgh as they were about The Dark Knight Rises, particularly if watching the film leads movie-goers to believe that it’s an accurate portrayal of the state of education in our city. Pittsburgh (and Pennsylvania as a whole) holds a very high standard for education, and I can’t imagine a situation in local schools ever getting this out of hand.
- Flashdance (R, released in 1983): Everyone knows this classic story of a welder in the Pittsburgh steel mills by day turned exotic dancer by night. Ironically enough, I watched this movie for the first time a few months before we moved to Pittsburgh. The scenery and skyline has changed quite a bit since the 1980’s, but the people in Pittsburgh still embrace the story, which has even been turned into a play that was recently showing in the local Benedum theater. What a feelin’! 🙂
- The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (PG, released in 1979): This is a completely ridiculous comedy (accompanied by an equally ridiculous Motown soundtrack) revolving around the fictional Pittsburgh basketball team (pretty much the only major sport that isn’t represented in our city). In this film, the local basketball team has been stuck on a losing streak for quite some time, until they get some help from an astrologer (played by Stockard Channing from Grease). They transform into the Pittsburgh Pisces–from now on every play and every player is based on signs from the stars. And somehow…it actually seems to work. There are some surprising appearances by Julius Irving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Obviously, there are films that I’ve missed here. I’m still slowly working on seeing more movies that have been filmed in Pittsburgh (including the infamous Jack Reacher, every Pittsburgher’s latest favorite). What do you think? Are there any Pittsburgh movies you’d like to recommend? Have you ever had a movie film in your hometown?