With World’s Largest, filmmakers Amy C. Elliott and Elizabeth Donius have created an exhaustive look at the world of quirky small-town America. The kinds of towns you may never heard of, despite their best efforts. Places like Strawberry Point, Iowa, home of the world’s largest strawberry. Or Winlock, Washington, home of the world’s largest egg. All across this great land, small towns have — for years — sought to bring tourists to their struggling main street’s with gimmicky sights to see, the likes of which are giant fiberglass eggs or mammoth killer bees. This is their story.
In this charming, low-fi effort that was shot over the course of several years and was projected in a 4:3 aspect ratio, Elliot and Donius present their subject with levity and energy. The film moves from town to town, exploring the lives of the prideful, hopeful folks who celebrate their own slice of American history — whether it be a giant cow or a monument to the Boll Weevil. At its onset, the film is a celebration of American kitsch, a love letter to the optimism of small communities coming together to do something potentially meaningful.
As the film’s story evolves, layers are expertly peeled back and we are witness to the very palpable sadness at the heart of the “world’s largest” fad. “Nobody comes here to see it,” says a random towns-person of their city’s great attraction. What is intended to be something helpful for their small town, something that might otherwise aid their struggling economy, is revealed as nothing more than a quick pit-stop for the nation’s interstate-trotting travelers. Stop and take a picture with the giant wasp, but nothing more. Despite the incredible pride of the many towns who have the “world’s biggest Paul Bunyon” statue (yes, there are several), these monuments provide very little notoriety, and many of these towns are struggling mightily.
At its core, World’s Largest accomplishes two things. One is that it is an incredibly charming look at the spirit of small-town America. Full of pride and imagination, these (mostly aging) communities have found something around which they can come together. “We not only have the world’s largest Loon,” explains one city official in Virginia, MN. “We have the world’s greatest people.” Secondly, the film is a poignant, heartbreaking portrait of the nation’s economy — the real “main street,” if you will. It’s the kind of film that should be played repeatedly on the likes of The Discovery Channel or The Learning Channel, if they can find time in between their regularly scheduled reality shows. It’s an interesting doc with a lot of heart, a testament to the fact that, as one farmer describes, “every little town needs something special.”