Fried Green Tomatoes
Director: Jon Avnet / Script: Fanny Flagg (from her novel) / DP: Geoffrey Simpson / Editor: Debra Neil / Music: Thomas Newman
Cast: Kathy Bates / Mary Stuart Masterson / Mary-Louise Parker / Jessica Tandy / Chris O’Donnell
A grown-up film about women, for
In my fantasy film school, the gem that is Fried Green Tomatoes would be first on the syllabus.
Why? Because in order to break the rules, you must first understand them. Learn what really makes this film tick and you learn a building block of CINEMA.
Jon Avnet wrote a magnificent adaptation of Fannie Flagg’s source novel and filmed it with a tender understanding of what makes a timeless classic.
So we have twin plot lines – one in the Twenties / Thirties and one in what was then contemporary 1991. The plot spins effortlessly around Kathy Bates’ Evelyn and her voyage of personal self-discovery, as she befriends Jessica Tandy’s Ninny who, like some ancient bard, delivers a little more story with every encounter. This is the earlier tale, set back in the Depression, that follows Mary Stuart Masterson’s Idgie and her friendship with Mary-Louise Parker’s Ruth; a friendship that takes them both through the darkest time…
The film reminds me of John Sayles’ Passion Fish, in its portrayal of the languorous South, where summers last forever and the living is easy…
Blessed as he is, with a sterling cast & script that effortlessly surpasses Bechtel, Avnet allows scenes to build at their own pace. In a world obsessed with fast cuts and ostentatious production design, this might not sit comfortably with you, but if you give yourself over to the experience, the rewards are there.
Problems? Okay, so things are glib at times (e.g. the KKK’s shoe-horned in for ‘local colour’ and Masterson’s wardrobe is too Laurenesque for the period, but that’s just quibbling.
This is a grown up film about women, for women, before anyone else. It doesn’t patronise, preach or undermine. Instead, it reinforces the bonds of friendship and speaks a timeless truth. Its characters have hearts that break and souls that heal. The writing and the performances are in-step with each other all the way. Yes, of course there’s a whole swathe of cineastes, for whom FGT represents the antithesis of something like the Marvel Universe, but that’s just missing the point.
Remember: In order to work for an audience – any audience – a film has to follow certain rules, if its narrative can be followed. Understand that and you’ll appreciate why FGT is so clever at getting the basics right. The genre, tempo or milieu might not be to everyone’s tastes, but wouldn’t it be a dull world if we all liked the same?
Watch and learn!
The secret’s in the sauce…