Five Easy Pieces (1970)
“I move around a lot because things tend to get bad when I stay.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
In Alternate Oscars, Peary names this Best Picture of the Year over Patton (1970), explaining that while “Patton contains a great performance by [George C.] Scott and holds up fairly well as a biography and as a war movie”, he much prefers this “different character study” featuring “a star-making, Oscar-nominated performance by Jack Nicholson” (who he names Best Actor of the Year). Peary writes that while Nicholson’s “Bobby Dupea was not like anyone with whom we associated, we responded to his strong sense of alienation” and “to his rebelliousness and frustration, which result in some classic Nicholson outbursts of temper”. He writes that the “picture is full of odd, funny moments… and unusual movie characters” — and while “we don’t admire Bobby for escaping his trap, life with the likable but annoying Rayette” (Black), we “understand that he would suffocate if he committed himself to her” so “we accept his running away because it is for her benefit more than his own” (!). While this last point is certainly debatable, there’s no arguing that their future together was tenuous at best — so perhaps it is all we can expect of Bobby to leave her his wallet (ouch).
Peary writes that Nicholson “made a startling impression” as this “virile leading man”, someone “overloaded with pent-up energy, ready with the snide remark, soft spoken until he can no longer suppress his temper”. He compares him to W.C. Fields, noting that “his world is [just] as full of aggravation”, and “at times just as funny”, given that “nothing goes as he wants” and “no one will leave him alone”. He ends his review of Nicholson’s performance by noting that “as disaffected a character as Bobby Dupea is, he was sort of an Everyman in 1970. Young viewers in the counterculture” could “identify with Bobby’s outsider status; restlessness; fury and irritation when pressured; sexual energy; inability to fit comfortably into marriage, parenthood, or other niches; need to keep the exit door within sight; disappointment in himself; and desperation to mend and give meaning to his life.” While I find Nicholson’s character much harder to tolerate as I get older (and more aware of how poorly women in general are treated throughout this movie), he remains a compelling presence: his interactions with the “waitress superior” (“I want you to hold [the chicken] between your knees!”) remain eminently watchable. My favorite scene, however, is when he hops up onto a flatbed truck during a traffic jam and begins playing the piano he’s found under a moving cloth. Speaking of piano, it’s an important presence in this film, and Smith is “pitch-perfect” as Nicholson’s sister, a Glenn Gould-like pianist who can’t help singing along with her own playing while recording.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)