Third Times a Charm
Arguably the most well-known and certainly one of the most watched Connecticut movies. Oh? Did you forget Beetlejuice takes place entirely in the fictitious quaint little village of Winter River, Connecticut? You shouldn’t have forgotten, especially if you’re a resident yourself. How dare you.
After all, a few of the best barbs come at Connecticut’s expense… but we’ll get to that in a bit.
I don’t really see the point of recapping the entire movie, since most everyone has seen it – or has at least seen chunks of it… or at least is aware of its premise. If not, I’ll be quick.
Barbara and Adam Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) are a married couple excited to spend their two-week vacation as a staycation at their large house in Winter River. (The film’s exterior shots were filmed in East Corinth, Vermont, by the way.) After a car accident, they both die and become very confused ghosts – inhabiting their own house.
The rest of the movie was, for many adults, Tim Burton’s grand entrance into the American movie-making scene. He’d done a few successful things for kids (Frankenweenine) and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure served as sort of a kid/hip adult crossover, but Beetlejuice was his first big adult(ish) movie.
And Beetlejuice is certainly a Tim Burton movie. (Echoes of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse are present in this movie.) It’s weird and wacky and the Maitlands surf between various netherworlds of stop motion, computer animation, and real life. It’s clever and fun and never tries to project any realism onto the non-reality worlds. Something I very much appreciate, especially from a 1988 movie when it would have been very difficult anyway.
After the Maitlands’ death, the house is sold to the Deetz family from New York City.
The house is sold and the new owners, the wealthy Deetz family, arrive from New York City. They are over the top and ridiculous caricatures and they’re great. Charles Deetz (Jeffrey Jones, from Ferris Bueller fame and pedophilia infamy) is a former real estate developer; his second wife Delia (the great Catherine O’Hara) is a self-proclaimed sculptor; and his dour daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder, of course).
Delia sets out immediately to remodel and redecorate the historic house with her take on chic postmodernism. This, of course, makes the classical restoration decorator ghosts tear their non-corporeal hair out. They try everything to scare the Deetzes away – to no avail. Especially since young creepy Lydia can see and converse with them – and they take a liking to each other.
Lydia is not fond of the house or the community; constantly complaining about missing her beloved Manhattan and all her artsy friends. “Jeeze Lydia, is Connecticut so boring?” laments her husband. Rural Connecticut compared to Manhattan?! Um, yes? (Which is the appeal to so many New Yorkers, of course.)
There are a few scenes with Robert Goulet, a very wealthy real estate developer that Charles is trying to convince should buy the whole town of Winter River. Robert Goulet is having none of it: “Winter River, Connecticut is, if you’ll forgive me, nowhere!”
But the best dig at Connecticut by far was not anything anyone says, it’s a subtle visual in tandem with a line of dialogue. The family is eating take-out Chinese and just before having some noodles, Charles says, “People in New York don’t know what they’re missing up here!”
… and the carton says “Duffy’s Cantonese Kitchen.” Duffy! An Irish name! Because that’s what you get in rural Connecticut! I would like to pat myself on the back for catching this, as it was clearly purposeful – and definitely hilarious.
Michael Keaton is of course Beetlejuice, a ghostworld “bio-exorcist” who is generally disliked by everyone living and dead alike. He’s an obnoxious pervert who promises to rid the house of the Deetzes if only someone would help him escape from his millenia of purgatory.
Keaton is great, but I think people might be surprised to watch the movie for the first time to learn he’s not really featured constantly. (This is a good thing, as his character is exhausting.)
The Deetzes come to accept their ghost roommates and Lydia even becomes friends – and friendly with other kids. There’s the whole Banana Boat dinner and the climactic scene where Lydia is nearly forced to marry Beetlejuice.
In the end, Beetlejuice is banished back to death’s waiting room, doomed to hundreds of years of waiting. In an effort to jump the line, he tries to trick a witchdoctor who gets him back by shrinking his head. And there you go.
Of all the Connecticut (and “Connecticut”) movies, Beetlejuice is a standout. Even fuddy duds will likely enjoy the pure zaniness of early Tim Burton. The movie doesn’t really make any sense, but that’s not the point.
I like to think the point is to make fun of Connecticut for no apparent reason.
CTMQ Rating: 5 out of 5 thumbs up
Connecticutness: 123 out of 169 Nutmegs
Filmed in Connecticut? No
Wealthy Caucasian with a Big House? Yes