Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean Film Details
Overview: A fan club of die-hard James Dean fans meet on the 20th anniversary of his death and reconnect, opening old wounds and facing new ones.
Tagline: A cup of coffee and a side of dreams.
Review: Come Back to the 5 and Dime is a very interesting film. I first saw it 20 years ago on Encore or Showtime and parts of it stuck in my head (especially the truly haunting closing shots of a dusty, long-abandoned general store). I watched again a few months ago. Both times I was not quite sure how to react. First, there’s the surreal nature of a film that, unlike Altman’s Three Women (a movie that was full of lies and supernatural undertones, yet had painfully realistic characters), has no strong tie to reality – not just in the absurdity of Sandy Dennis playing her teenage self (which Ed Gracyzk, who wrote the play, objected to), but in the basic characterizations. Everyone has a “turn.” Everyone has some moment where they have to face a “truth” or give a revelatory speech, or get one shout-cried at them. Even Kathy Bates, who goes through most of the film as unapologetic and bumptious, gets to face this when Marta Heflin (who makes her material a lot better than it should be) shames her for her decades of bullying. This falls flat, because you are expecting it from a mile away. Other “truths” emerge from Sandy Dennis, who savaged by many critics in spite of giving a decent enough performance (the flashbacks just would not have worked without her earnestness or her basic rapport with Sudie Bond and Mark Patton) – likely because by this time they had seen her giving this performance (Pauline Kael once dismissed it as “rabbity”) for over 15 years. (around this time Dennis was better served by her very affecting handful of scenes in The Four Seasons), and Cher, whose acting career was launched by her work here. Cher gives a perfectly good performance, but it’s never anything beyond a performance, and is a lot better when she’s left to the role of the sardonic if good-natured frenemy, rather than having breast cancer, corrupting (??) Sandy Dennis’ son, and so on. Then there’s the plot, which is compelling when dealing with Dennis’ delusions and the struggles of Joe/Joanne, but is too clichéd to care about with most of the supporting characters, and is too silly to bother with when it turns into a special needs child thought to be James Dean’s love child who later becomes a delinquent ruined by exposure to bad things, blah blah blah. Once you get past the clumsiness of the play’s mechanics and the silliness of its plot strands, you’re left with the credible actors trying to piece together what they’re given (see above), and the actors who really shine and work within the patchwork format. That’s mostly Karen Black, who takes a sad old trope (the broken, miserable transgender) and gives the part some dignity and humor. Joanne may have scores to settle (more “truths”), but also wants to have a good time with her friends, like the old days. Her pushing and pushing of Cher to reveal the “truth” about the husband who is never coming home is one of the most dramatically potent faceoffs in the film, a film that teases this type of conflict but more often has actresses watching each other act. Sudie Bond is also very good in a very unsympathetic part, making you understand why the girls still stay around her, even though she is a deluded, passive-aggressive woman hiding bitterness and a dead bigot of a husband under jes’ folks “plain talking.” In spite of my criticisms, and the creakiness of Ed Graczyck’s work (if you get the DVD of this you can hear him at length about what a terrible experience doing the Broadway version was, how the vicious reviews crippled his writing for years, his issues with Altman, etc.), it’s certainly a compelling movie to watch. Altman feels alive and present in scenes big and small, not in the somewhat mean-spirited, greatest-hits way that makes it difficult to sit through films like A Wedding. The cast does well at making a meal of what they see (or taste) on the page. The visuals are very effective – you never feel like you’re looking at a set. And, like I said before, the closing credits are a thing of beauty. It’s something that shouldn’t work at all, but somehow does.
Duration: 109 min
Genre: Comedy, Drama
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