Movie Review: World’s Largest Documentary

Friday night I had the privilege of attending a screening of “World’s Largest” at the Chicago Underground Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Gene Siskel Film Center

Directed and produced by Amy C. Elliott and Elizabeth Donius, the film is on the surface about roadside attractions, specifically those dubbed the “world’s largest” whatever that are erected across the country and beacon travelers off their path. Giant statues and sculptures. They travel the country, visiting these sculptures and talking to local organizations and people about their creation and what these things mean to them.

But what the film is really about is the vanishing small-town culture. Most roadside attractions stood as reminders of the past. A giant olive in a town once known for the fruit that is no longer produced there. Many were created to bring people into the town, but, with nothing else to offer, the few and far between visitors who do come merely hop out of the car for a picture and then continue on their way. And without sustained customers the businesses can’t keep open, and if they aren’t open customers can’t come.

Many of the attractions stood in towns that are increasingly losing money and losing populations.

The World's Largest Buffalo, Jamestown, ND.  One of the sites featured in the feature documentary World's Largest. www.worldslargestdoc.com
The World’s Largest Buffalo, Jamestown, ND. One of the sites featured in the feature documentary World’s Largest. © Amy C. Elliott

At the heart of the film is the continual returning to Soap Lake, Washington: a town that was once attracting customers from their miraculous soapy lake but that is now the poorest town in their county. A local proposes that they build a new Washington roadside attraction, the world’s largest lava lamp, to stir interest in the town and bring visitors in. It’s a controversial plan that creates supporters and opponents. And after years of battling, a promising donation, and finally county support, the town still was struggling to make that dream happen. But the continuing question is, even if the town succeeds in creating this lava lamp, will the lava lamp attract people and be enough to bring the town back on its feet?

Towards the end of the film the filmmakers took on a question: do you think anyone would come just to see this world’s largest thing? The resounding answer seemed to be no. For someone like me, a road tripper obsessed with visiting any and all of these roadside attractions, yeah, yes, I do go. But, in reality, never for just one thing as I always have several stops planned. And I also have to admit that I am guilty of the pop out visiting, never really staying in a town for more than a few pictures.

The film evoked a mixture of humor and sadness. I found the audience in constant laughter, often over the ridiculousness of the attraction in question or the reasoning behind it or the sheer unwavering love from a local or two. But it was never a judging laughter. And it was definitely sad to see some towns that were once at least somewhat bustling only attract a dozen or two people to a parade.

The World's Largest Goose, Sumner, MO.  One of the sites featured in the feature documentary World's Largest. www.worldslargestdoc.com
The World’s Largest Goose, Sumner, MO. One of the sites featured in the feature documentary World’s Largest. © Amy C. Elliott

The film made me think a little bit more about how I travel, and hopefully I will be able to take a few more moments in each town I visit. Hopefully be able to stop in a shop or restaurant. But, as the filmmakers pointed out in the post-film discussion, many of these places had restaurants that were maybe only open on Tuesday night and Saturday morning. Because that giant egg isn’t enough to keep it open.

To learn more about World’s Largest and if it is coming to a city near you, visit the film’s website at www.worldslargestdoc.com.

Valerie Bromann

Founder & ROad Trip Expert

Valerie Bromann is a a website manager, content creator, and writer from Chicago, Illinois (currently living in Dallas, Texas). As an avid road tripper who has visited hundreds of roadside attractions, Val always pull over for a world’s largest thing. Founder of Silly America and author of The Road Trip Journal & Activity Book, she visits, photographs, and writes about all the weird tourist destinations she visits and offers road trip planning advice and inspiration based on her own travels so you can hit the road for yourself.

World's Largest Mailbox in Casey, Illinois roadside attraction

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Last modified: July 4, 2020
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The Road Trip Journal & Activity Book - Everything You Need to Have and Record an Epic Road Trip! By Valerie Bromann

The Road Trip Journal & Activity Book

Everything You Need to Have and Record an Epic Road Trip!

BY Valerie Bromann

Enjoy fun games and challenges to pass the time on your next road trip and have a keepsake to look back on for years to come with this entertaining must-have for your next vacation.

The road trip you’ve been dreaming of starts here! Journal about your stops and get to know your fellow passengers with activities and exercises designed to pass the time and bring you closer together. Instead of “Are we there yet?” you’ll find yourself asking, “We’re there already?”. Complete with prompts you can turn to while driving between locations, this journal will one day be a memento of your life-changing trip.