About the Movie

My Tale of Two Cities: A Comeback Story

In A Nutshell

Filmed in the style of "Super Size Me" and "Roger & Me", "My Tale of Two Cities" is a funny and heartfelt movie that has been called a "Mr. Rogers & Me" as it tells the comeback story of "St. Elmo's Fire" screenwriter Carl Kurlander who moved back to the real-life "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" only to find both himself and his hometown of Pittsburgh in mid-life crisis. In an attempt to help his hometown while exploring with honesty and humor whether you can go home again, Kurlander asks his neighbors, from the famous (Steeler Franco Harris and Teresa Heinz Kerry) to his old gym teacher and the girl who inspired "St. Elmo's Fire", how this once great industrial giant which built America with its steel, conquered polio, and invented everything from aluminum to The Big Mac, can reinvent itself for a new age. With the rest of America wondering the same question about their neighborhoods these days, "My Tale of Two Cities" is a charming, engaging feel-good film that proves "it's never too late to come back!" and that the whole world really is "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

The Long Version

"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood..."
Fred Rogers, Pittsburgh 1928-2003

"In Pittsburgh, even...!?"
Oprah Winfrey responding to "St. Elmo's Fire" screenwriter Carl Kurlander's claim that he found happiness in his hometown.

In the tradition of documentaries like "Super Size Me" and "Roger & Me", "My Tale of Two Cities" is a poignant and funny "comeback" story about coming home and people and cities being challenged to reinvent themselves for a new age.

They say you can't go home again, but that's what Hollywood screenwriter/producer Carl Kurlander (St. Elmo's Fire, Saved By The Bell) did when he accepted a job offer to teach college in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Two years earlier, Carl was living above the Sunset Strip, with famous neighbors like Richard Simmons, David Schwimmer, and Bud Bundy, but his two year old daughter had a habit of dancing naked on coffee tables, which Carl's wife Natalie pointed out, if they stayed in that neighborhood, might one day become a profession. So, like reverse pioneers, they put their stuff in storage, loaded up a U-Haul acting out the fantasy of many, by actually going home again.

Things seem to be working out better than they ever imagined, as Carl finds himself a guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on a program about people who changed their lives, telling Oprah how he has found happiness teaching at the University of Pittsburgh, going sledding with his daughter in the park where he grew up, and living in a place where people actually know their neighbors. For it turns out, they have moved quite literally into "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"-- buying a house just blocks from where Fred Rogers had taped his TV show for 30 years. But perhaps it is a curse to tell Oprah you are happy. Because shortly afterwards, Fred Rogers passes away and Pittsburgh, which one hundred years ago had been one of the richest cities in the world, goes bankrupt.

Enter Carl's dermatologist, Dr. Doug Kress, who offers Carl money to make a movie to show the world how Pittsburgh which built America with its steel, conquered polio, and invented everything from aluminum to the Big Mac, is trying--like many other cities--to reinvent its for a new age. And Carl's cameraman Mark Knobil who insists on filming Carl asking his dermatologist for money for the movie, convinced the movie will probably be a train wreck, but that even those who don't care about Pittsburgh, may be amused at the subversive movie-within-a-movie about Carl's Don Quixote attempts to help his hometown.

Though the film is shot in the style of "Roger & Me", Michael Moore's film about the decline of the auto industry in Detroit, "My Tale of Two Cities" is more a "Mister Rogers & Me" as Carl first begins his quest visiting Fred Roger's trusted mailman Mr. McFeely (actor David Newell) in front of The Neighborhood's famous tree, talking about how on the show McFeely used to bring Fred tapes of things that were made in the neighborhood--most of which are no longer made here. "What can we replace that with?" Newell asks, noting. "The steel industry is never going to come back--at least not the way we hope it will... who knows, maybe fifty years from now, this movie will have helped turn Pittsburgh around... you never know."

Inspired by that optimism, Carl seeks out Mr. Rogers' real life neighbors in a journey that is both heartfelt and humorous. He ends up going shopping in Pittsburgh's Strip for cheese with Teresa Heinz Kerry who has given millions to the city through the Heinz Foundation and who tells us how what Pittsburgh needs is an "infusing of dreamers... because dreaming is contagious"; tossing a football with Steeler great Franco Harris and his surprising un-athletic son Dok Harris who has come back to the city to go to business school and law school, debating whether it will be catching a pass or getting young people to stay in town that will help the city; and eating breakfast with former Treasury Secretary Paul O' Neill at the diner where Paul would go to each morning at 5:30 when he was CEO of Alcoa, turning that company around just at the time where most corporations were fleeing the city. These neighbors and many others each offer their own wisdom about how this town they all care so much about might comeback and once again become "The City of Champions."

But the movie becomes intensely personal, exploring the complexities of coming home again, as it turns out Carl had a less than idyllic childhood in the place where he hopes to give his own daughter a better one. In fact, he first came to Pittsburgh as a boy only after his mother had divorced his father, a doctor from Cleveland, to marry Carl's step-father, a doctor in Pittsburgh. (His first joke was "my mother never got divorced--she just got referred to another husband.") As so to purge the demons of his past like Pittsburgh itself needs to do haunted by the ghosts of the decline of the steel industry, Carl visits his old gym teacher, Bob Grandizio, who still teases Carl about not being able to catch a football; stops by the home of his first crush, Lynn Snyderman, who is the real-life girl who inspired "St. Elmo's Fire" (Kurlander and Lynn both worked at the St. Elmo Hotel one summer); and in the film's most dramatic scene, literally returns to his old home with his mother who had dramatically left Pittsburgh in the midst of Carl and his brother Tom's childhood. In a further twist, Carl's strong-willed and remarkably frank wife Natalie, not a Pittsburgh native, becomes increasingly uncertain about whether the family should stay in her husband's hometown, which she concedes is better for their daughter, or return to their previous, more glamorous life in Los Angeles.

Though set in Pittsburgh, the movie could be about anyone's return to the place they grew up--but time and again, Pittsburgh proves a place with fascinating characters, from Andy Warhol's nephew Marty who works in a scrap yard and ponders what his Uncle would have been had he stayed in this city, to famed coroner Cyril Wecht who talks to Carl after he and his brother have just caught and eaten a fish from the Allegheny River, joking about whether they both will survive the experience. The filmmakers also talk to some of the massive Pittsburgh Diaspora which was formed as jobs left due to the decline of the steel industry, visiting these passionate faithful in Steeler bars where they congregates each Sunday around the country with their own dreams of returning to the homeland.

In the end, "My Tale of Two Cities" deals with issues of family, community, and place, and how it will take all of us neighbors to make a difference if we as a city--or as this movie seems more timely than ever--we as a country, will be able to comeback. It honestly explores just how hard it is to change as Carl even visits a nun, Sister Linda Yankoski, to ask her if Pittsburgh needs saving--to which she replies that salvation is the freedom to take risk, let go of our past, and believe in our future. The nun's parish, Holy Family Institute, had burned down which paradoxically led to its rebirth as a bigger and better organization--illustrating the film's theme that sometimes it is the worst times--whether a person or a city--that leads to our best times. With alternate doses of pathos and comedy, the film's message is ultimately inspiring as it ends with Pittsburghers from Times Square to Beverly Hills to The Point where Pittsburgh's three rivers meet, singing Fred Rogers' theme song, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and Carl realizing that "there are good neighbors everywhere. But it was my Pittsburgh neighbors who helped me to dream again."

Poignantly, Pittsburgh's beloved late Mayor Bob O' Connor attended this sing-a-long a week before he entered the hospital. Bob actually pops up in the film amidst an hysterical fishing scene where Carl wrestles with a catfish. The Mayor, who was then just running for office, points out a once polluted area of the river which has been transformed by a young city councilman into a family fishing hole, as an example of what neighbors can do. That city councilman Luke Ravenstahl would go on to become Pittsburgh's youngest Mayor, succeeding Bob, to whom the movie is dedicated along with his spirit that "if we work hard and believe in ourselves, we can do anything." Watching "My Tale of Two Cities", you too may also believe.

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