Today's movie is Five Easy Pieces, directed in 1970 by Bob Rafelson. I really loved this movie. It's one of the movies that was part of New Hollywood, when American cinema changed greatly. I've written about it before, and this is such a great example of it. I have a hard time believing that I never really heard about this up until now, who knows. I'm so glad a got a chance to watch it. It has all those great characteristics that I love about this period - the focus on a blue collar hero dealing with everyday problems, a character that viewers can personally relate to. This was pretty out of the norm for so long. Movies were about epic stories or fantastical people, not guys like you and me. I know a lot of people I know will be interested in this movie because of Jack Nicholson, and hey, he's actually incredible in it! You've got to see this movie if you haven't.
The movie is about Robert Dupea, a blue collar worker in an oil field. He likes normal stuff - drinking beer, bowling, and his waitress girlfriend, Rayette. He hears that his father is ill, and decides to head back to his home town to see him before it is too late. We learn a lot about his life in some of these scenes. Robert was actually a child prodigy, an extremely talented musician, but he never stayed with it. He also has anger issues, and is quick tempered. He had taken his girlfriend with him at first, but embarrassed by her, he has her stay in a hotel while he visits his family. He starts to fall for Catherine, who happens to be engaged to his brother. As much as he feels like he loves her, she won't be with him, since he doesn't love himself or anything else. I'll try to avoid spoiling any more, so go watch it if you haven't seen it yet.
It can be tough sometimes to see what was so revolutionary about this movie when it came out. You have to recall how cinema had focused on characters that most people couldn't relate to. There were many historical or religious epics, musicals, and movies featuring characters that we not just your average Joe, as they say. Ebert recalls seeing this movie for the first time, writing, "We'd had a revelation. This was the direction American movies should take: Into idiosyncratic characters, into dialogue with an ear for the vulgar and the literate, into a plot free to surprise us about the characters, into an existential ending not required to be happy" (Great Movies II, 148).
It's no wonder this movie became such a hit so quickly. The writing is simply incredible. Many people know the infamous chicken salad sandwich scene, and Ebert claims that every movie lover can quote it. I love that the characters have so much depth. They sometimes are not likable, but we still like them, because it's more human than the flawless characters that we are used to seeing. This is the sort of writing that speaks to people. We love the characters because we are often not likable. We do not get happy endings. We get thrown out of the restaurant before we get our toast. We like them because they represent us, and represent the world around us. I love that the characters speak in dialect, too. There is no mistaking this for anything other than an American movie, and I mean that in the best way. There is almost a sense of pride in the film -about the dialect, about the working class, about the struggles. It's a "This is who we are, goddammit!" sort of pride, and it's so nice to see.
It's a stunning movie, and I hope you guys take the time to rent it if you haven't seen it. I actually picked up the Criterion BBS Story box set when it on sale on Amazon, and Five Easy Pieces is in the box set. I'm so excited to get it now and own this great movie :)
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Five Easy Pieces
Buy or Rent it on Amazon