Author: Ben Zhang

Program of Study: Master in Social Sector Leadership and Nonprofit Management; Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice (CRN)

(Photo taken by author)

Description: Do you have a movie you love so much you want to know everything about it? That’s how your host feels about the 1997 romantic comedy My Best Friend’s Wedding. Follow him on his journey to breathe and feel that heartbreaking boat scene, and sail beyond the Chicago skyline.

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Transcript (provided by author):

Welcome to the ELI’s Finding Chicago Global Perspectives Podcast Series for AEPP 2023. I’m your host, Ben Zhang, and I’m currently enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice.

Wait a minute. How did I get myself to the world of freedom, and, let’s be honest, also chaos?! Have I travelled to the future? I remember I was still prying my head open for those application essays. And UChicago? No way! Nice work, Mr. Ben Zhang. Now the world is your oyster! All right, before I get a little too much ahead of myself, let me ask you one thing, are you a movie lover? Well, if you are, buckle up, you are in for a treat! Even if you are more of a horror guy than a chick flick fan, stay tuned, I promise it will be worth your time.

Have you seen My Best Friend’s Wedding? Simply one of the sweetest and funniest romantic comedies ever made, starring our one and only Julia Roberts who spends three days trying to break the wedding of her best friend and steal the groom? Guess where is that wedding? Oh my god, it would be such a bad podcast if the answer wasn’t Chicago! As a matter of fact, the whole movie was filmed in the city, covering many landmarks like the busy O’Hare International Airport, the very fancy Drake Hotel, the chaotic Union Station, etc., etc. That being said, there’s this one heartbreaking scene shot on the Chicago River boat cruise where the groom that our beloved pretty woman is secretly in love with delivers this famously romantic line:

(audio clip) “If you love someone, you say it. You say it right then, out loud. Otherwise, the moment just…passes you by.” Isn’t it great?! I get goose bumps every time! So in order to really feel this scene and those words, I decided to go on that boat tour.

It was a great day, nice weather. The tour started at 6pm sharp, and the next hour and half just flew by like it was a minute. Here’s a friendly reminder to those who wish to have this experience: if you don’t care about all the history and anecdotes of all the old and new architectures along the river, pick the sunset cruise that departs at 7pm where the guide keeps the blah blah blah blah to the minimum so you can just relax and have your own party. I wish someone had told me that! Anyway, I went very much prepared. I brought some snacks and wine, and more importantly, my selfie stick, with which I could take as many pictures as I wanted without bothering anyone. Come to think of it, another piece of advice, don’t go alone. Go with a friend or a few.

So… as the boat was roaming in the river, surrounded by those iconic buildings along both banks, I really felt like it kind of transported me back to that scene in the movie. It was like beaming me to another time and space in a hologram. I had that scene playing in my head over and over again, sipping on my white Zinfandel. Time seemed to have slowed down or stopped. That scene will forever live in my heart, now with the new addition of my actual experience throughout and beyond. I’ve always known that films are called an art of “sculpting in time” in the old days, and now I understand why.

Everyone has a thing or two that they would want to spend their time on and even travel for. Some travel to the end of the world to watch some colorful birds. Some go to the extremes to chase after tornados. There’s also some who love movies and TV shows so much they go out of their way to visit the shooting locations, which in part explains the success of Disneyland and Universal studios. Those theme parks are great, but there is even more fun in going the extra mile, digging for the hidden gems. To just drop a few celebrated examples, those stairs in West Village in the Big Apple where Sex and the City tells the story of that single gal in Manhattan looking for love. And another example in New York, the Empire State Building. Even if you don’t know the love story Sleepless in Seattle, at least you’ve seen King Kong smashing helicopters on top of it. A total classic!

People don’t go see these places just to remind themselves that they’ve seen them. They do it because by physically being there they get closer to those moments in the story where at one point in their life they truly really genuinely felt something, the joys and the pains. For those who really give themselves up to it, possibly, some of the deeply stored memories would be evoked and take them on a nostalgic journey to those precious past times, a nervous first date in high school watching Titanic, or binge-watching Friends with a bestie on a Sunday night, or crying our eyes out, again, re-watching the Notebook after a break-up. You get it now? We are not just visiting a filming location. We are time-traveling to unlock part of our memories hidden in them. It’s never about the movies and shows, but about who we used to be and who we are today.

We make movies and shows based on true events and real people so that they won’t be forgotten. On the other hand, great movies themselves, fictional or not, are worth remembering, as well. If you are in any way feeling emotionally attached to certain locations where those scenes were made, by all means, put that spot on your bucket list to see on your next vacation.

That’d be all for today. I hope my podcast has been more than an education, but an inspiration. Thank you all for joining me on this journey. Now it’s time for you to undock and start your own. Bon Voyage!