I had the worst cold on January 26, 1992, but that didn’t stop me from screening two afternoon movies at my local cinema. After screening the funny and sweet Truly, Madly, Deeply, I snuck in to see Fried Green Tomatoes. Despite feeling like hell, I enjoyed both movies.
Later that summer, I was in the middle of working on The Movie Critic: Book One, my lame attempt at emulating Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion books. I decided to re-screen Fried Green Tomatoes on VHS. What follows is a revised version of my review written immediately after that second screening ended. It was number 71 out of the 152 assessments compiled for the wisely unpublished manuscript. Enjoy.
Fried Green Tomatoes
130 minutes, 1991
Kathy Bates–Evelyn Couch
Jessica Tandy–Ninny Threadgoode
Mary-Louise Parker–Ruth Jamieson
Mary Stuart Masterson–Idgie Threadgoode
Produced by Jon Avnet and Jordan Kerner
Screenplay by Fannie Flagg and Carol Sobieski
Music by Thomas Newman
Directed by Jon Avnet
Beauty & The Beast. JFK. Grand Canyon. Cape Fear. Bugsy. The 1991 Christmas season has been an exciting one for movies with no shortage of great titles to check out at your local cinema. You can now add to that impressive list, Fried Green Tomatoes, a warm, sensitive drama sprinkled with good humour yet ultimately laced with tragedy.
The movie stars the great Kathy Bates as Evelyn Couch, an overweight, monogamous housewife stuck in a personal rut. Unhappy and desperate for excitement, she attends several "self-discovery" classes where she encounters many women who can relate to her chronic boredom. They talk about spicing up their marriages, losing weight, masturbation and, of course, showing each other their vaginas (always a highlight).
In one memorable scene, an unimpressed Evelyn daydreams about surprising her husband, Ed (Gailard Sartain), by greeting him naked while wrapped completely in cellophane. Her fantasy quickly becomes a nightmare when Ed tells her to put some clothes on before the neighbours see her. A good-natured classmate snaps her back to the uninspiring reality she remains mired in.
One day, Evelyn and Ed visit an ailing relative at a local hospital. Because Evelyn is not particularly well-liked by this woman, she decides to wait out in the lobby. She soon meets Ninny Threadgoode (an Oscar-nominated Jessica Tandy), a funny and charming old widow who lives here. She leaves an immediate impression on the lost Evelyn by dipping into her treasure trove of personal anecdotes.
It is through her Depression-era stories that we learn about Idgie (the delightfully rebellious Mary Stuart Masterson), a ballsy tomboy constantly at odds with her family, the Ku Klux Klan and the law. However, she begins to grow up a little through a needless tragedy. Her charming brother is killed by a passing train after getting his feet stuck in the track. Years later, she develops a very close friendship with his girlfriend, the troubled Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker), who has moved on to marry Frank Bennett (Nick Searcy), the most notorious resident of Whistle Stop, Alabama. An infamous local klansman who brutally beats the pregnant Ruth, Frank causes mayhem wherever he goes. But someone has had enough.
I really enjoyed the way this movie alternates seamlessly between the two sets of stories. Hearing Tandy inspire Bates with her fascinating tales of a bygone era is quite moving and sweet. They have a lovely, easygoing chemistry together. Both deliver superb performances. The energized Masterson and the understated Parker, two lovely young actresses, both do a terrific job, as well, in the flashback sequences. You sense that Ruth wants to be more than friends with Idgie and that the feeling is mutual.
The movie offers moments of true, dramatic power which are balanced with more lighthearted moments, a difficult achievement. Running a little over two hours, this was the right move.
Longtime producer Jon Avnet makes an impressive directorial debut here as he stays focused on the material and oversees one convincing sequence after another. Fried Green Tomatoes is a wonderful dramedy that deserves your total concentration.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, April 9, 2010