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Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

Fried Green Tomatoes. Feature film. (1991, 130 mins) IMDB

...you don't have to be a woman to enjoy this film, hating racist bastards helps...

T

he title is unforgettable. I remember watching this film quite a number of years ago and a few images stuck, but for the most part I didn't remember the storyline. I remembered the scene with the bees. In watching it again this evening, it was clear the performer was dealing with the real thing. It was her and there were hundreds of bees swarming the tree, swarming her. In watching the feature with the DVD, it's not hard to see why it worked, but it's something few people could do. As with most wild animals, the best advice is to stay calm. They are more afraid of you than you are of them. Easy to say, but hard to do.

In watching the feature, everybody suggested that fried green tomatoes were a Southern thing (southern US). I don't know where they get that. My mother made them with tomatoes picked from the garden. It was a case of not waiting for them to ripen. And if my mother did, her mother did and so on.

But what about the film. To write about what happens in the film would take as long as watching it. Many characters with two story lines--one in the present and one flashing back to the 1920s and 30s.

The present deals with a middle-aged woman (Bates) who meets an elderly woman (Tandy) by chance in a nursing home. The older woman tells her a story about her sister from long ago.

It wouldn't be fair to say that the bulk of the story is about the flashback because events happen in both time lines. We watch as Bates struggles with her marriage and mid-life while we see the events of the past with Idgie and Ruth and a large cast of characters. There are many familiar faces in this film. It's really two films in one.

Bates' husband is a cliché--fat, career-driven, the bread winner, expects his wife to make dinner and do the household chores while he spends his evenings watching baseball or some other sport on TV. Bates wants something more and begins to take charge of her life.

But sixty years ago, things were different. We meet Idgie as a young girl on the day of her older sister's wedding. Idgie doesn't want to wear a dress. The scrapped knees tell us she's a tom-boy. She pouts and runs off but her older brother Buddy, the voice of reason, comes to the family's rescue. After his intervention we cut to the church and Idgie is wearing a boy's outfit complete with tie.

During the reception we meet Ruth. She's a young woman in love with Buddy. They kiss on a bridge crossing over a railroad. Her hat is caught in the wind and blows down onto the tracks. Buddy like any 18 year old runs after it and runs after it until his foot is caught in the tracks and a train whistle blows and he can't escape and the train can't slow down in time. Death comes suddenly to this wedding.

I didn't like this sequence. I suppose I could say it was melodramatic and it is and I could say we've seen this before and I'm sure we have, but mostly I'm not sure what purpose it serves in the story. The story needs Ruth and Idgie to meet and become friends but at this point in the story there's such an age difference (18 for Ruth, 12 for Idgie), this doesn't seem like the time. The story also requires Ruth to marry Bennett which means she can't marry Buddy. So why have Buddy and Ruth in love? It's just not a necessary bit of the story. Once Buddy dies, we don't think of him and neither do the characters.

With the story setup and time advanced, we meet a young Idgie as an adult and the same Ruth. Neither seem to age in this story, but, as Ebert would say, oh well.

Idgie is not a lady. She wears cloths like a man. She spends her free time at a "bar" where she drinks and gambles and swears. She is a free spirit. She's also most likely a lesbian but that word is never spoken in this film.

Ruth marries someone named Frank Bennett. She moves into a large house with him. When Idgie comes to visit, she discovers Bennett is a wife beater. The black-eye tells the story even if Ruth won't.

If Ruth and Idgie are the central characters of the historical plotline, Bennett and his death create the mystery that drives the story. We know he died or went missing, the question is what happened.

The story answers the question in quite an interesting way and in doing so jabs at the KKK for the bastards that they are and people like Bennett. I don't think I'll ever understand how a husband can hit his wife. We clearly have no sympathy for Bennett nor should we.

This leads to an interesting point about characters in fiction. Stories tend to portray characters in the extreme. If they are good, we only see their goodness and if they are bad, we only see their badness. We never once see anything about Bennett for example that is admirable or worthy. He's a wife beater, a thug, a member of the KKK. Can something really be that one-sided? No, but in story telling that's the case.

Two questions follow. Should that be the case and how does it effect person's reality of the real world.

George Bush The Stupid said you're either with us or you're against us. There's good and there's evil. If you believe in fairy-tales these extremes exist, but not in real life. Even George Bush The Stupid is not entirely evil, although some believe that.

(Note his father is George Bush The Enlightened. I use the nomenclature because it reminds me of the Italian father and son team and the invention the semi-colon.)

People are quick to judge and place people into neat little boxes, and while that serves a purpose, it also closes the mind to other possibilities.

As for the second part, on whether that's appropriate for storytelling, well, that could take months and months to discuss. Critics often speak of two-dimensional characters as opposed to well-rounded, three-dimensional characters. The later being the preference. But is Iago from Othello purely evil and therefore two dimensional or are there signs of benevolence? Is he three dimensional? Perhaps he is more complex, yet evil. A psychopath.

Having said that there is, in this film, lively characters who conflict with one another in a way that is interesting and I suppose that's what we want to see in fiction and film.

The film is also what most would be describe as a chick-flick. That may not be the right description. It's definitely a film in which the focus is on women and therefore would appeal to women, but yet I found interesting. You don't have to be female to enjoy this film.

Posted 2009/04/22 at 18h41ET in Movie Commentary.

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