Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fried Green Tomatoes Movie Review

I have heard about the movie Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) for ages.  I remember thinking that having an unusual Southern appetizer as the name for a movie was a strange idea. I finally got around to seeing it, and I think it is an above average movie with some lovable characters.
Evelyn Couch  (Cathy Bates) is having trouble in her marriage, and no one seems to take her seriously. When in a nursing home visiting relatives, she meets Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy), an outgoing old woman who tells Evelyn the story if Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson), a young woman in 1920's Alabama. There was a murder in their small town of Whistle Stop, many people thought it was Idgie. Through Idgie's inspiring life with her friend Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker), Evelyn learns to be more assertive and builds a lasting friendship of her own with Ninny.
In most cases movies which have a bulk of the story shown as flashbacks seem superfluous. Why not just have a movie about the old time period instead of hopping back and forth between the present and the past? When movies do this, they almost always have a moment at the end where (gasp!) the person telling the story is actually the young person from all those years ago! Once in a while, it works well, as it did in Citizen Kane, but usually it doesn't. What makes Fried Green Tomatoes survive this flashback structure is the fact that it has an interesting character to be the listener to the long-ago tale.
Cathy Bates is pretty much amazing in everything she is in. Here she plays a dowdy, but ladylike Southern woman who is an empty nester, unhappily married, yearns to rekindle the lost love with her distant husband, but she exudes low self-esteem. She goes to classes with other southern women in an attempt to save her marriage and gain confidence and acceptance for herself. It's fun to watch her develop into a more of a spunky go-getter as she is inspired by Ninny's stories about Idgie and Ruth.
Fried Green Tomatoes has the murder story moving it along, but it isn't the main focus. A majority of what happens is women get together, have fun, laugh often, endure one another's sorrows and burdens together, rejoice in their sisterhood and friendship, and learn from one another, becoming better women through their shared experience. It also has a delightful nostalgic feeling of the good old days and growing up in the deep South. We get to see plenty of home style southern cooking which made me pretty hungry while watching it.
The movie is also about nonconformity in an intolerant society. This primarily takes the form of racism in the South. You've seen Whistle Stop before in other movies; it's one of those small Southern towns where decent folk get along fine with the black residents, but racist rednecks are forever driving though in their pickups, waving shotguns around and causing trouble. Stories of the South in the early 1900's simply aren't complete without the Ku Klux Klan rearing it's frightening head. The town of Whistle Stop refuses to conform to societal attitudes towards race in its day. Idgie and Ruth buck the system by leaving Ruth's abusing husband and by Idgie refusing to give into the ladylike expectations of her family.
Fried Green Tomatoes is a sweet, charming movie that is a tribute to women's empowerment and to the power of friendship. I could see it being interpreted as a "chick flick" but I really do think that's a gross oversimplification of the movie. An overused chick flick clich√© that is absent from this movie is the presence of an unrealistically perfect man for the young lady characters to swoon over in every scene. Having that would have weakened the movie and probably the relationship these women had with one another. People who have seen the movie before ruined the surprise ending for me. But even when I knew what was going to happen it still threw me for a loop.  I think Fried Green Tomatoes is a good movie and I recommend seeing it. I didn't quite love it enough to buy my own copy, but I expect there are a good many women viewers who would like it enough to get their own copy. Even if you don't feel inspired by its message of friendship, you'll at least be inspired to try fried green tomatoes sometime.

There are plenty of movies that celebrate women and friendship. What are some titles that you have enjoyed?

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