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On the streets where we live

by Roger Ebert

I went searching on the web for a photo, and this was the one I found. Where do you think it was taken? If you have lived in this city for any time at all, you thought Chicago even before I could ask you. How did you know? You just knew, that's all.

I found them on a blog named "MJ & Gregg, Our World." They were taken during the filming last winter of "Nothing Like the Holidays," a film that will open around the country on Dec. 12, when my review will appear. It involves a Christmas reunion for a far-flung Puerto Rican family.

I did not dislike this film. But for now, all I want to say is: This is a movie that has its locations absolutely right. It was filmed in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, and as nearly as I can determine one of those 3-story white houses in the photo may be at 2329 Monticello, between Fullerton and Belden. Or not very far away.

I was in the hospital last February, when the movie was filmed here. I guess there was a lot of publicity at the time, but I missed it, and I saw the movie having no idea where the movie was shot. But I could tell from the first shot: Humboldt Park! Almost 40 years ago, I dated a woman in the area. Oh, it was love.

Soon after, there was an exterior shot of the street the family lives in. The usual mixture of frame fronts and brick fronts, bungalows and three-flats, storm doors, sidewalks, cars and trees. I asked myself, what is it about that street that shouts Chicago so loudly? I don't know. It's not a specific architectural style, like the fake haciendas of Los Angeles or Manhattan town houses. It's just a street that expresses exactly what a Chicago neighborhood looks and feels like. If you're a Chicagoan, you will not debate this.

There may be streets in other cities that look like this. In Milwaukee, maybe. But "Nothing Like the Holidays" uses nothing but quintessentially Chicago locations. Scenes were shot around Superior and Leavitt, Division and Kedzie, Augusta and California, and Fullerton and Central Park. There are stores, churches, shopping streets, and those brick apartment buildings that form a U around a sidewalk leading in from the street to the main entrance.

The movie never shows the landmarks. No Marina City, the Hancock, Navy Pier, the Sears Tower, the River, LaSalle Street, Wrigley Field, anything. There is a scene where two characters go walking late at night on the ice rink in Millennium Park, and you and I know we're looking at Michigan Avenue, but nobody from out of town will. The camera studiously avoids turning around to stare at the Bean.

What is my point? This movie makes the best use of real Chicago locations I have ever seen. That's all. This is where we live. This is our city. We know our way around. You can take the bus to the beach. When it snows, you hope to hell nobody takes the parking space you shoveled out. When we want to get rid of a tree, men do it themselves, with a woman standing on the porch telling them they're damned fools. Families live in these neighborhoods, and they have for a long time. You can't say why, but some streets simply breathe, Sweet Home Chicago.

The blog is at mjgreggourworld.blogspot.com/. It's a real Chicago blog. It doesn't ever say who MJ and Gregg are, because everybody knows them.

Message received from a reader, Susie Z: You wrote a terrific opinion, "On the streets where we live" that was posted today at the SunTimes website. I took a peek at the MJ and Gregg blog where you found the Chicago neighborhood photo. I contacted them to tell them about the mention by you and it turns out that MJ and Gregg don't live in Chicago, but were only here visiting last winter and live about 150 miles away in Michigan. They note after reading your article, "Morning show interviews, late night show spots here we come; 5 minutes of fame. Pretty funny and gave us quite a laugh tonight." Here's the link to their blog response to your reference: http://mjgreggourworld.blogspot.com/2008/12/roger-and-me.html What surprises me most is that I think I was the only person who wrote to tell them about this!"

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