Thursday, March 14, 2013

Movie #179: Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes is a 1991 comedy/drama set in the 1980s (but mostly in the 20s through flashbacks) in Alabama, and starring Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker. It's not a terrible movie, but there are some issues.

OK, so. The movie opens with a woman named Evelyn Couch (Bates) and her husband (Gailard Sartain) getting lost in the back roads of Alabama and finding a ghost town called Whistle Stop, complete with an abandoned cafe. They get where they're going - nursing home, to visit Ed's aunt, who immediately throws things at Evelyn and drives her from the room. She winds up sitting down and talking with Ninny Threadgoode (Tandy), who tells her about her life in Whistle Stop just after the first World War and, especially, Idgie Threadgoode, who was always a rambunctious and tom-boyish girl.

When Idgie was little, her older brother Buddy (Chris O'Donnell) died in a train accident. The woman he was in love with, Ruth Jamison (Parker) never really got over it, but comes back to Whistle Stop (she's from Georgia) years later to try and reach out to grown-up Idgie (Masterson). Idgie's become wild, drinking and gambling and wearing men's clothes, but rather than Ruth making Idgie clean up, Idgie brings Ruth down into her world and they become friends. Put a pin in that last bit, we'll come back to it.

Ruth gets married, her husband Frank (Nick Searcy) is a wife-beating asshole, Idgie comes to visit, sees bruises, leaves when Ruth tells her to, and then gets a call back some time later because Ruth is pregnant and doesn't want to raise a baby with Frank. Idgie, her brother and her hired man go and get Ruth, and together the two women open a cafe. Frank comes for the baby some months later (based on the size of the baby, I'm gonna go with about 8), but he mysterious vanishes that night.

Idgie is later put on trial for his murder, but the case is dismissed because there's no body to be found (and honestly, even in the south with a black man to blame for it - the hired hand (Stan Shaw) - I have a hard time believing that anyone's getting brought to trial without some evidence, but what do I know). Ruth dies of cancer because of course she does. Meanwhile, in the 80s, Evelyn stops catering to her neglectful husband's TV habits and starts working out, becomes a Mary Kay consultant, and eventually brings Ninny home to live with her.

OK, so the whole thing is sweet and kind of glurgy. There are a couple of funny moments, and a couple of interesting characters, and Ruth and Idgie are both very likable and kind people. But here's the thing. In the book (by Fannie Flagg), they were lovers. It's, like, explicitly understood by the town, it's part of the story. In the movie, it's implied, kinda-sorta, but it's never really stated or implied heavily enough that you'd get it if you were clueless and straight (I sure didn't when I saw it the first time, when I was clueless and straight). Now, admittedly, that was 20-some years ago (good lord), but there were movies with same-sex couples back then, too, and I think that we could have had a kiss at least. Instead, we have a food fight standing in for a love scene. And it doesn't make a big difference except that if you know what you're looking at, it's really obvious what they're really doing. Argh.

Anyway, like I said, it's not terrible, but it's not great, either.

My Grade: C
Rewatch value: Low. It's just watchable enough that I can't rate it IINSIAIFWT.

Next up: Fright Night (1985)