Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fried Green Tomatoes

Or depending on which country it was released in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Unfortunately like so many adaptations I haven't read the 1987 novel by Fannie Flagg from which the film iis based. Suffice to say that as usual, because the film is good enough, the novel has been added to the impossibly long line of books I would like to read before I fall off the perch ( as they say! ). This particular film has been sitting under the telly for ages before I pulled it out last week and finally watched it. When I had finished it I did my usual background research on the film and was aghast that it was made in 1991 hence is now a staggering 20 years old!

 I couldn't believe that it was that old as I re-call this playing here in NZ and the fact it was so well received. Isn't it terrible how time slips by so quickly?! But what this shows is how a good film, no matter how old it gets, will stay in our collective memories whilst the chaff fades away. Fried Green Tomatoes whilst not a truly great film must rate as one of the last two decades best films because it still manages a reaction whenever it is mentioned. Most people who saw it 20 years  ago still say how much they loved it. I even know of some who have watched it a multitude of times since. After my recent viewing I can see why it was and still is popular.

 Of course what a film grosses is no indication of a films quality but it can show its popularity. Fortunately Fried Green Tomatoes was popular because of it being based on a popular novel and for the fact it was a well made film. On its budget of US$11 million it went on to gross just shy of US$120 million world wide which is nothing to be sneezed at. As an indication of its popularity in the US alone it ran for a whopping 20 weeks in 1,331 theatres State wide. Not bad figures are they?! Critics of the time liked the narrative and the performances especially that of Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy. Overall it was positively received by critics but conversely they found it ' conventional '  'predictable' with the use of flashbacks ' clumsy ' .

 I agree up to point on it being  'conventional '. But in all reality I don't think it could have been made any other way, which leads me to agree that the flashbacks were a bit clumsy at times. Again though these are central to the story and in all reality couldn't be done any other way. Flashbacks in film I have found is a difficult technique to get right. So often it doesn't work as the film flits between two time frames. And yet I though overall Fired Green tomatoes done it quite competently. I certainly didn't feel myself getting lost in wondering which era I was in and enjoyed the tale as told from Tandy's character to that of Bates '.

 So conventional maybe, predictable? Again maybe. But overall they are minor quibbles in an otherwise excellent and memorable film. But what is it about?! It centres around Evelyn Couch ( Bates ) a timid, unhappy, overweight housewife who meets and befriends elderly Ninny Threadgoode ( Jessica Tandy ) in a Alabamian hospital. There, over several encounters, Ninny tells the story of the now-abandoned town of Whistle stop and the people who lived there. It is the story of a Depression-era friendship between two women Idgie Threadgoode ( Mary Stuart Masterson ) and Ruth Jamison ( Mary-Louise Parker ). Ninny knew both women and she relates to Evelyn the story of the two and the murder of Ruth's abusive husband and the accusations that follow.

 The film though is a bit deeper than just a conventional tale of murder ( it in fact touches on racism during the Depression and the more than friendship between Idgie and Ruth ). At one stage the local sheriff asks Idgie and Ruth to keep their ' coloured ' cooks hidden from the sight of the white customers in their cafe. Later on Ruth's husband turns up with the local KKK and whips one of the pairs cooks. It is this cook who is implicated in the disappearance and supposed murder of Ruth's husband.

 But what the film copped most criticisms over was the toning down of the novel's lesbianism between Idgie and Ruth. Many reviewers criticised the films removing of the novels lesbian content and yet the film won an award from GLAAD for ' best lesbian content '! Now as I stated I haven't read the novel and knew nothing about the film before I watched it. But as I did I immediately picked up on the fact that there was more to the ' friendship ' than the film went into it. Any viewer with any modicum of intelligence would be able to pick up on the underlying lesbian theme that is present.

 Whilst I understand the critics sentiments in the film underplaying this element, it must also be pointed out that if it was too obvious the less open minded in our world would have avoided seeing the film, and hence it would have failed commercially. I personally think the film found the right balance in not removing the lesbianism totally and yet leaving in just enough in regards to the novel. It may not be perfect but then our world's views towards such things aren't exactly perfect are they? But criticisms aside the script was nominated for an Oscar in Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. So it can't have been all that bad!!

 Fried Green Tomatoes then may be slightly flawed then in its novel to film delivery and its toning down of certain themes. But what it cannot be faulted on is the acting which is the films absolute highlight. If for nothing else the film will be remembered for this aspect. And even though Jessica Tandy was the only actress nominated for an Oscar ( Best Actress in a Supporting role ) in any respects her nomination spoke for all four leading females who are just superb. I cannot speak highly enough of the four of them. What makes this so is that they all gel onscreen. I mean the chemistry between Masterson's Idgie and Parker's Ruth is superb whilst subtly lesbian in nature. And then in the modern era that of Bates' Evelyn and Tandy's Ninny is just as good. The film may have its flaws but the acting is not one of them.

 I like this film. The criticism of it being conventional is somewhat founded but it more than makes up for this with four simply stunning performances by its four female leads. They are the heart of the film even the story is somewhat predictable and with a done before feel to it. But at the end of the day it is easy to find faults. I think Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe a fine film with more than enough going for it that I have no hesitation in saying WATCH IT!! It is now 20 years since its release and I now know why it was so well received and immensely popular buy all who saw it in 1991.

 IMDB has this with 7.4/10. I'd agree with that because it does have several flaws ( which I choose to ignore ). But that aside the story is strong enough to engage the viewer and I doubt if anyone who watches it will fail to comment on the quality of the acting afterwards.

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  1. Hey there!

    This is totally offtopic, but… I’ve been tagged with the ’7×7 Link Award’ meme-thingy-watchamacallit, and in turn I have to bug 7 other people to do it too. And guess what? You’re one of the 7 lucky winners! Congrats! ;)

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  2. Hey man, where've you been? You coming back to blogging at all?