Stonington Gets Ready For Its Closeup

Aug 9, 2012

The tiny village of Stonington Borough is hoping Hollywood stardom can put it on the map. Hope Springs, the movie shot last year on location in the Borough, starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, opened Wednesday. WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports.

The last time Stonington Borough hit the silver screen it had to give all the glory to its next door neighbor.

“I’m not going to be slinging pizza for the rest of my life.”

“The best pizza!”

That’s right, the legendary film that launched Julia Roberts wasn’t principally filmed in Mystic, but in Stonington Borough, just a couple of miles down the road. Now 24 years later, Stonington has its second shot at fame – and this time it’s doubling for the fictional village of Great Hope Springs in Maine.

“Think there’s a building in this place that does not have shutters – whole town looks like it was built by Hansel and Gretel.”

“I think it’s charming!”

“That’s what they want you to think. You think he did it on purpose? Picking the most remote possible – I mean you’re trapped here, it’s like Alcatraz.”

“Maybe he just wanted people to have to get away.”

“From what – cell phone service?  I only have one bar!”

Not the image the Borough might like, but it turns out the locals are prepared to forgive Tommy Lee Jones’s grumpy character for dissing their town.

 "I just was blown away by the movie. Thought it was fantastic. Both the acting and the way the movie was put together. We don’t get to see movies like that very often." 

John Papp is co-owner of Noah’s, on Water Street, already a local landmark. The restaurant was transformed into the Nor’easter Diner and used as a location for key scenes in the movie, which tells the story of a long-married couple seeking counseling in a quiet resort town. Operations Manager at Noah’s is Lisa Coleman.

“They came in here and spent ten days in Stonington, but what you see on the screen is the beauty we see here every day.”

“Now you were actually in it?”

“I am in the background in the scene in the diner. So we spent ten hours that day with the two scenes, and to see it boiled down to about ten second part, and another 30 second.”

“I thought it was about two minutes, but it was quick! And the restaurant actually, the way they decorated Noah’s they put this tacky netting up on the walls and hundreds of these hideous rubber painted lobsters – almost creepy!”

“So were you glad they called it something else then for the movie?”

“I don’t know what it all means in relationship to Noah’s!”

“My hopes are that it brings more customers in to find out what a gem of a restaurant it is anyway. It’s not going to be the same food they served in the movie – we’re much different than a diner. if it gets people here who’ve never been to Stonington or been to Noah’s, that’s a good thing for us.”

“It’s a little stimulus package in a way.”

 Wendy Bury is director of community relations for the Borough Merchants Association. She says the whole process has been a windfall for the village.

 “I mean we had businesses that were paid to be used, residents that were used, they stayed in hotels, they ate meals, they hung out at the restaurants, they shopped while they were here. Just the filming, the actual process of filming, was a huge amount of money that came here. If we can continue to kind of promote that and use the film, that long term benefit financially, is a huge impact economically.”

The Merchant’s Association is partnering with community website Stonington Patch to further that financial benefit with a campaign they’re calling Save the Stub. Moviegoers anywhere in the country can bring their ticket stub to Stonington and get a package of discount offers to use when they visit.

“Our goal right now is to get out to the public that Stonington Borough is that beautiful location in the movie on the big screen. It does look like that in real life – that is what the Borough looks like.”

Stonington’s Historical Society also got in on the action, when its old lighthouse museum was used as a location. This weekend the society will run special boat tours around the borough that will point out both the historical gems of the village, and its movie connections. The society’s director, Mary Beth Baker says there’s one thing she hopes will come out of all of this attention.

“More films. I mean I think Stonington does have a quality that’s not easily found in this country. Has a very sort of quaint, old world atmosphere. It would be wonderful to do a 19th century saga and to set it at the lighthouse or at the Palmer House – it would be wonderful.”

At least for now, it seems as if the whole village may be in the grip of showbiz fever.

For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.