“Off the Minnesota Strip,” begins with Micki Johansen, a teenage runaway, superbly portrayed by Oscar nominee and two time Emmy winner, Mare Winningham (Georgia). She has returned from New York City to her small, Minnesota town. While in New York, Micki worked as a prostitute. The reason for her return, is that she is pressing charges against her pimp, Louis (Leon Isaac Kennedy), who physically abused her.
When she returns home, she is questioned by the police. The answers she gives to Detective McGrath (James Murtaugh) are forthright. Micki has no qualms about admitting, in front of her parents, that Louis kept all of her money, and that she was fed a steady diet of pizza, and nothing else. When McGrath is finished questioning her, she is released into the care of her parents: Micki’s father, Bud, who seemingly thinks everything can be fixed by eating one of his fried egg sandwiches, is played by Oscar nominee and five time Emmy winner, Hal Holbrook (Portrait of America). Micki’s mother Hughlene, a role acted by Four time Emmy winner, Michael Learned (Nurse), comes across as the sterner of the two parents. From Bud’s own admission to the detective, who is interviewing Micki, neither he, nor Hughlene are people who express much outright emotion, which is evident given how they react to seeing Micki, after her being away for an extended period of time. When Micki arrives home, even her younger sister, Danielle (Heather McAdam), behaves in a cold manner toward her. She blames Micki’s return home as the reason for her birthday party being cancelled, to which Micki replies, that it is just their mother using that as an excuse, so that she doesn’t have to arrange to have a party for Danielle.
Micki adjusts to life as best she can. She enrolls in school, where, according to the school principal, Dr. Haas (Richard Venture) she will be given a clean slate, but no special treatment. In addition to her current classes, she has to make up all of the work that she missed. Her friends, who her mother disapproves of, welcome her back, but there are many, including some of the school bullies, who taunt her about her days in New York. They also attempt to take things even further. From the outset of the movie, Micki’s a smoker, but she also takes to drinking to help cope with her emotions. Her mandated therapy sessions with Dr. Fischel (Ronald Hunter), seem to only exacerbate her issues.
It’s not all bad for Micki. Dwayne (Ben Morley), an aspiring musician, who works at a garage with his best friend and band mate, Tony (Kirby Furlong), seems, if not at first, but as the movie progresses to genuinely care about Micki. Dwayne dreams of moving to California, where his brother has built a successful career in the music business. When Micki hears of Dwayne’s dream, she likes the thought of leaving Minnesota with him for a better life. There is a reason she fled from her hometown for New York, before she even knew Dwayne. The teens romantic relationship is tested, however, when Louis arrives in town. He is there, in an effort to keep Micki from testifying against him.
Will Louis be successful in his efforts to convince Micki to drop the charges. Why did Micki initially leave Minnesota for New York? Does the same reason still haunt her, and will it prompt her to once more runaway, with or without Dwayne. Will Micki and Dwayne, both leave their lives behind in Minnesota for the potential to have a better life together in California?
“Off the Minnesota Strip” was directed by two time Emmy winner, Lamont Johnson (Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story). The teleplay was written by seven time Emmy winner, David Chase (The Sopranos). The 104 minute drama, originally aired on May 5, 1980, on ABC (American Broadcasting Company).
I read about this movie, and tried to find it on a number of streaming services to watch, without success. I found it on YouTube. The audio and picture quality left a lot to be desired, but it is still watchable. The movie avoids both exploitation, as well as cliches that are more often than not found in the traditional movie of the week format, or movies, like this, in general. Mare Winningham, as stated earlier, gives an excellent performance, one of the best of her career. The cast, as a whole, play their parts with competence. I am surprised that, as of the writing of this post, “Off the Minnesota Strip” has never been officially released on DVD, considering some of the movies well known talent, and that it was written by David Chase.