Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Secret's in the Sauce

Fried Green Tomatoes
Director: Jon Avnet
Cast: Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Chris O'Donnell, Cicely Tyson
Released: December 27, 1991

Oscar nominations:
Best Supporting Actress - Jessica Tandy (lost to Mercedes Ruehl for The Fisher King)
Best Original Screenplay - Fannie Flagg and Carol Sobieski (lost to Ted Tally for Silence of the Lambs)

This film alternates between two storylines: present day with Evelyn (Kathy Bates in a more mundane role for her..this was one year after she was in Misery, a far cry from this character!) and Ninny (Jessica Tandy) and the early 1900s with Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker). Evelyn is a housewife, a desperate one, who is trying to save her marriage because all her husband wants to do is sit in front of the TV and eat his dinner while watching sports. Evelyn, fearing her husband does not find her attractive anymore, joins a group for women on how to seduce their husbands and put the spark back in the marriage. There is one session where they are suppose to take mirrors and pull down their pants (or hike up their skirts/dresses) and inspect their vaginas. And in front of each other! What kind of freaky group is this? 

While at a nursing home with her husband to visit his mother, Evelyn meets Ninny Threadgoode who starts chatting Evelyn up and soon, over the course of a few more visits, tells her the story about Idgie and Ruth, two friends who grew up together in Alabama. Ruth is older than Idgie and was Idgie's older brother's (Chris O'Donnell) amour until he was killed by a train when his foot got stuck in the tracks while trying to fetch Ruth's hat. Both a teenaged Ruth and kid Idgie are witness to this gruesome death and all I could think while the train is barreling down the tracks and Ruth and Idgie are looking on with horrified expressions, is why doesn't Ruth shield Idgie's eyes or turn her away from seeing her beloved older brother being killed right in front of her eyes? Well, at least he got her hat!

Idgie is a tomboy who gets into fights while Ruth is more of a proper young lady (no selling weed for her!), but despite their differences they grow to become close friends. There is a time when the two friends are separated after Ruth moves to Georgia and marries a man named Frank Bennett who abuses her, including throwing her down the stairs while she's pregnant. While visiting her, Idgie sees Ruth has a black eye and takes away a pregnant Ruth. Even after that nasty fall, the baby is okay and grows up to be a young boy who will eventually lose his arm while playing near the train tracks. I would say like father, like son, except his dad wasn't Idgie's brother. (Although he was named Buddy, after her brother.) They don't show what exactly happens to him to make him lose his arm. One moment he's playing near the train tracks, the next everyone is running towards the tracks with concerned looks on their faces. They do a fake out where you think Buddy Jr. died because they show a bunch of people in black mourning around a gravestone, but then the camera pulls out and you see the grave is for the kid's arm. I really don't know what Buddy Jr. was doing around the train tracks to lose his arm. Was he laying down on the tracks and the train pinned him? It was just...odd. 

After Ruth's son is born, Frank shows up and threatens to take him, but Idgie tells him to never show his face again or he will regret it. She and Ruth have opened the Whistle Stop Cafe where they are best known for their fried green tomatoes (and they also become well known for their ribs!). Frank does return to try to kidnap his infant son while Ruth and Idgie are at a pageant and Buddy Jr. is being watched over by one of their cooks, Sipsey (Cicely Tyson). Frank is hit by a shovel and you don't see who does it, but when the sheriff comes to town to investigate the disappearance of Frank, Ruth thinks Idgie has something to do with it as she tells Ruth she will never have to worry about Frank bothering them again and she has made death threats to Frank many times in the past. Even though we later find out Idgie didn't indirectly kill Frank, she did have a part in his disappearance. And so did the sheriff who was investigating Frank's whereabouts because he was the one who loved the ribs - which were Frank's ribs he was eating after they cut him up and barbecued him! - so much. A bit sadistic, but kind of awesome at the same time. They are put on trial for the murder of Frank Bennett, but since there is no proof that neither one of them killed him (since they really didn't), their charges are dropped.

Each day Evelyn spends with Ninny, listening to her stories, she begins to gain more confidence and starts caring about her appearance and the way she dresses. She changes her hair style and starts wearing make-up and stops wearing her sweats. In one of my favorite "present day" scenes, she's about to park at the grocery store in a "rock star parking space" as my mom would call it, but just as she's about to turn in after the car that was in it prior pulls out, a little red convertible with two young blondes zips in and takes it. When she confronts them about it, they say, "Face it lady, we're younger and faster!" Evelyn takes matters into her own hands and rams their car several times until they come running out and she drives past them and says, "Face it girls, I'm older and have more insurance!" 

Like any film that focuses on female friendships (see also Beaches and Steel Magnolias), one of the main characters (Ruth) dies at the end of the movie of cancer. While Ninny is telling this story to Evelyn, she tells it like she is a third party, saying she was Idgie's sister-in-law, but it was pretty obvious she was Idgie as she knew an awful lot about Idgie's and Ruth's life. Idgie and Buddy have an older brother who is getting married at the beginning of the story Ninny tells Evelyn, but the brother and his wife are never mentioned again after that. Also, when Ninny and Evelyn are walking through the cemetery where Ruth is buried, Evelyn discovers there is a jar of honey from "The Bee Charmer" (Idgie's nickname) and that's when she realizes that Ninny is actually Idgie...which I realized from the start!

I had seen this movie two or three times prior, but this was the first time when I really noticed the lesbian undertones. Now the only physical contact between Idgie and Ruth is them hugging and the least amount of clothes they wear around each other are shorts and tank tops, but this time I was watching the movie with a bit of a different eye and you could tell there was something more to their friendship. After doing some research, I discovered that the book the movie is based on, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, lesbianism is a big theme although Ruth's and Idgie's relationship is never specifically labeled as such. In the movie, Ruth was being courted by Buddy, but in the novel, she comes to live with Idgie's family while she teaches at a Bible School. It is unclear to me whether Ninny is actually Idgie in the book or if they changed that for the movie. From the description I read about the book, the backstory Ninny gives Evelyn of how she came to know the Threadgoodes is more fleshed out than it is the movie so it is possible she could have been a third party witnessing the relationship between Idgie and Ruth, but being that I have never read the book, I cannot really comment on that. 

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