Fried Green Tomatoes
There is a genre of film that men seem to dread. Something on our masculine ‘Y’ chromosome genetically predispositions us to run in abject terror when our wives or girlfriends put a film like this in the DVD player. What could cause men to shiver is fear like this? It is the dreaded chick flick and Fried Green Tomatoes is perhaps one of the better ones out there. Let’s face it guys, this is the 21st century and we should at least show some signs of advancing emotionally. After almost 32 years of marriage my wife has me well trained enough to appreciate Tomatoes for what it is, a well crafted and emotionally complete film. If you really have to guys watch this film next to the lady in your life with a beer in hand and wearing your favorite team jersey.
Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) may be confined to a nursing home but rather than wallow is despair she faces life through her memories of the past and weaving stories for Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates). Evelyn is a bored, overweight housewife you soon becomes inspired by Ninny’s tales of times long gone. Most of Ninny’s stories concern two women that ran the Whistle Stop Café in Whistle Stop, Alabama. The south in the 30’s was a lot different than we know it today. Racism wasn’t even considered a problem; it was a way of life that separated the blacks and whites in a community. Women, especially southern women, were supposed to be demure and house bound something Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and her partner Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker) could not accept. The young women are complete opposites but became best of friends. Idgie grew up as a tomboy, ready to make her way in a man’s world. In contrast Ruth is shy and retiring. Ruth was engaged to Idgie’s brother Buddy (Chris O'Donnell). Ruth winds up marrying Frank Bennett (Nick Searcy) instead and the union was not well matched. Frank was abusive and cruel to his wife. Idgie talks Ruth into leaving him and together the two friends raises Ruth’s baby financing the endeavor with the café. Later on Idgie and her trusted manservant Big George (Stan Shaw) would stand trial for the untimely death of Frank.
A friendship between two very different women also blossoms in the present. Evelyn accompanies her husband Ed (Gailard Sartain) to the nursing home to visit his aunt. She wanders off and comes upon Ninny and the tales of the past become almost addictive to Evelyn. The lamented Evelyn is a woman that is defined by others all of her life. She was her father’s daughter and now she is Ed’s wife. Desperate for an identity of her own she finds strength and resolve hearing the stories of Idgie and Ruth. There is one moment that has become a Hollywood classic as the once deferring Evelyn rams into the car of a pair of insulting girls. In this moment the audience can see that Evelyn no longer see her self through the eyes of others; she is her own woman with a mind of her own.
One thing that keeps this film from achieving its potential is the flashback format. This is extremely tricky for a director to pull off and while a very good job is done some of the contrasts between the two time periods are lost in the shuffle. On the other side of the coin the emotional impact of this film holds together and can pull in the most macho man out there. The stories are honest portrayal of women in different times but facing much the same in the way of problems. While Ed was not abusive like Fred he did hold Evelyn back just as Ruth needed emancipation from her restraints. Director Jon Avnet manages as best as possible with the split time periods and keeps to what is important here, the saving power of a true, deep friendship. The women watching can directly relate to their own best girlfriends while the men can get into a little glimpse at the other gender. Many have noted that the film was diluted from the popular book by Fannie Flagg. For one thing the relationship between Idgie and Ruth was a lot more intimate in the novel and more time was given to the overt hatred and violence of the times.
There is absolutely no doubt that this is a stellar cast. The four main female roles are each given to actresses of paramount talent and ability. Jessica Tandy spent most of her life entertaining others. She mastered stage and screen as few actors ever could. Many actresses seem to fade away with age some of her best roles where those of a more mature woman. In Tomatoes she is not only the story teller but the emotional rock for the rest of the cast. Mary Stuart Masterson is another life long professional actress. From her first on screen lines when she was nine to present day Masterson has made a career of playing strong willed women and was perfect for the role of Idgie. Masterson gives strength to her character one borne from a rising above a repressive time for the women of the American South. Playing the perfect counterpoint to Ms Masterson is Mary-Louise Parker. Parker also plays a woman of great inner strength but is initially unaware of what heights she is capable of reaching. Kathy Bates is perhaps one of the most versatile actresses around today. While she is best know for roles where she plays women that are demented or able to steam roll through a man’s world here her character has the person personal growth arc. Bates is as believable as the put upon Evelyn in the beginning of the film as she is as the self realized woman at the end.
Universal has released a special, extended edition of the film with over 15 minutes of added material not seen in the theatrical cut. Most of the additions just flesh out the character development but doesn’t really change the film significantly. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is good but some of the colors were muted. The contrast was true with excellent boundaries between the light and dark. The Dolby 5.1 audio is under used. The sub woofer is mostly silent. Considering the type of film this is completely acceptable. The director’s commentary by Jon Avnet is far above average. It is a mini course in film direction complete with how he envisioned the interaction of the characters. The featurette "Moment’s of Discovery: The Making of Fried Green Tomatoes" was also better than the usual self promoting faire seen on DVD. It goes into more depth not only with the actors but the writer and director as well. There are also some of the obligatory deleted scenes and outtakes to round out the disc. One other little extra is a little cookbook for recipes from the café. This is definitely something for the ladies but it holds a charm that will not be lost on the guys out there.