North of the Mackinac Bridge, in the great “state of Superior,” a man is measured by the meat he can put on his family’s table — and the points and spread of the antlers he can mount on his wall. A real Yooper sports a rifle nearly as long as he is tall, ’cause “da bucks are as big as Buicks.” When he’s feeling lucky, sometimes he has visions of a buck calling his name whispering, “Take me! Take me!” — and as Grandpa Alphonse Soady used to say, “All things come to those who shoot straight.”
Of the men of Escanaba, a Soady considers himself a man’s man. “A Soady craps so big,” Albert Soady (Harve Presnell, Fargo) brags, “he’s gotta stand up to get offa it.” Excepting his brother, Alvin, and his son, Reuben (Jeff Daniels, My Favorite Martian). Alvin didn’t bag his first buck until the embarrassingly late age of 43. Also a late starter, Reuben is even teased by schoolkids around town as “The Buckless Yooper.” Some call him “The Mother Teresa of Deer Hunting.” If he doesn’t hang a buck on the buck pole this season, he’ll go down in the Soady Deer Camp Log as the oldest Yooper never to bag a buck, bumping his Uncle Alvin from that dubious position.
Escanaba in da Moonlight is a loving parody of the habits of what may be one of the Great Lakes State’s endangered species, the Yooper. Writer and director Daniels offers us a comic window into the land of wild game and pasties as his jumbled comedy of hunting, UFOs, God and love stumbles into redemption.
In many ways, it’s a Yooper thing us “fudge suckers” south of the bridge might not understand — or laugh about. Warning: This movie has a made-for-TV look and moments of toilet humor and political incorrectness concerning the Ojibwa Nation. Daniels may shoot straight, but he could aim higher.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at firstname.lastname@example.org.