Come Back to the Five
Over the years, Robert Altman has been one of the most admired directors in Hollywood, even though he has driven studio executives crazy. In the early eighties, he accepted an offer to direct a big screen version of the Popeye cartoon strip. The film was a vehicle for Robin Williams, who was the talk of Hollywood for his television show, Mork and Mindy, as well as his stand up comedy routines.
After the phenomenal success of Superman, studios wanted to find their own cartoon-to-live-action franchises. Many in the business felt Williams was one of the few actors who could assume the cartoon role and Altman had the talent to make a respectable film. In the end, the film ended up horribly over budget, it wasn't very good, and Williams continued to look for a movie that would get him off TV.
After that disaster, Altman returned to his indie film roots and adapted the play Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean for the screen. While it wasn't a financial success, it was a critical darling that returned Altman to credibility.
The film centers around six women in a Texas drugstore marking the 20th anniversary of Jimmy Dean's tragic death. All members of the local Jimmy Dean fan club, their lives have taken different paths since that fateful day. Sissy (Cher) has never left the drug store and suffers from a failing marriage. Mona (Sandy Dennis) has become a pitiful figure who achieved fame for getting a bit part in the James Dean classic, Giant, when it was filmed in a near by town. However, she has no credibility because she claims her son is Jimmy Dean's lovechild, fathered during a one-night stand on the set. Stella Mae (Kathy Bates) married an oil baron, Juanita (Sudie Bond) continues to run the drugstore after the death of her husband and Edna Louise (Marta Heflin) has become a housewife pregnant with yet another child.
Their 20th anniversary party is spiced up by the appearance of Joanne (Karen Black), a woman who claims to know all of them, but they can't remember her. Who is the mysterious Joanne? Is Mona's child truly the son of Jimmy Dean? What else we they learn about the past?
Sandy Dennis gives the best performance in the film as the wilted flower who can't move on in life. Her character continues to hold tight to the wonderful summer when she was an extra in the film. Mona even makes pilgrimages to the old, rotting set to take pieces of it for her collection. She tried to leave town to go to college after that summer, but returned like a goldfish that can't survive outside of her small fishbowl.
Cher also puts in a fantastic performance as the one time beauty queen who is fading with time. She never left the diner and her life just meanders along as her marriage to her high school sweetheart suffers. Something has happened to Sissy that has taken away her brashness and confidence. What was it? Watch the film to find out.
Altman is able to weave several storylines together in a way that won't confuse the viewer. Often, directors try to do this and fail, but Altman ties everyone's story together so the audience is never lost in a meaningless sub-plot. As each woman makes a startling revelation, it impacts the others.
The other reason I like this film is that it harkens back to a different time in America. In a way, writer Ed Gracyzk wants all of America to return to the five and dime and the fifties. When he wrote the play in the late seventies, America was starting to move into the type of society we have become where malls, national chainstores and corporations dominate society. We don't have a five and dime run by mom and pop where all the kids hang out after school. Wal-Mart has replaced them.
If you get the chance, check out Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Ed Gracyzk
Based on the Play by Ed Gracyzk
Sandy Dennis .. Mona
Karen Black Joanne
Sudie Bond . Juanita
Kathy Bates . Stella Mae
Marta Heflin Edna Louise
Mark Patton . Joe
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