Turn Back The Clock

Movie Review

Fried Green Tomatoes

Distributed By: Universal Studios


Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Everyone has that movie – that one movie that no matter how many times you watch it, you never get bored.  It’s the movie that makes you feel good when you’re sick; the movie that makes you laugh when you’re sad or makes you cry when you need to; the movie that despite how many times you’ve watched it, you always spot something new in it.  It’s THE featured movie in your collection – the one you couldn’t do without.  For me, Fried Green Tomatoes is that movie.

            Set in the south, Fried Green Tomatoes revolves around two sets of friends and how the tale of one set inspires that of the other.  Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) is an overweight housewife who feels under-appreciated and worries about the future of her marriage to her husband Ed.  One day, she meets a sprightly old woman named Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) while visiting her husband’s aunt in a nursing home.  Seeing Evelyn in need of some companionship and having a need for companionship herself, Ninny decides to strike up a conversation with Evelyn. 

            The two become fast friends, Evelyn earning inspiration from the stories Ninny tells about the Threadgoode family, Ruth Jameson (Mary Louise Parker) and Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) in particular.  As Evelyn learns about the adversity faced and conquered by these two strong women, she begins to earn confidence in herself, slimming down, getting a job, and making positive changes in her life.  When Ninny’s lifelong friend dies and she realizes that the home she once knew is gone, Evelyn is there to help Ninny just as Ninny had been there for her.

            Fried Green Tomatoes is a story about friendship and the love that goes into the relationship of special friends.  But it is also so much more.  It’s a story of triumph in the face of adversity.  It’s a murder mystery and a down-home tall tale.  It’s a drama with comic moments.  It’s a story about believing in yourself.  A tale about the importance of remembering our past and handing that memory down to future generations.  It’s all of these things wrapped up in a tremendously enjoyable package.         

            What’s more is that the movie is so damned believable.  Every time I watch this movie, I cry – I don’t want to give away the movie to those who haven’t seen it, so I won’t tell you exactly which scene causes the water works.  I will say that the scene is so well-done, you can’t help but cry in sympathy with the characters.  The whole movie is this way.  Anyone watching it can totally relate to at least one or more of the characters and when they laugh, you laugh; when they cry, you cry.  The acting and direction is just that incredible.

            I recently purchased the Anniversary Extended Version of Fried Green Tomatoes.  In this particular version of the movie, deleted scenes were placed back into the movie.  I had viewed some of these scenes previously during a specially televised version of the film and wondered why they had been cut in the first place, so having the movie in what I perceived as the “whole” version was very important to me. 

            Watching Fried Green Tomatoes again for the umpteenth time was just as magical for me as the very first time I saw the movie.  As I told you before, this is a film in which you will always notice something new.  This time around, I realized that I had always admired the chain the adult Idgie Threadgoode wore in the movie, but never once spotted where it came from.  Watching the movie again allowed me to recognize that this was the same chain that Idgie’s beloved brother hung his watch from…the same chain and watch she was playing with moments before his death.  Obviously this chain was very special to Idgie as a momento of someone she loved very much.  Hats off to director Jon Avnet for his attention to subtle details such as these that are present throughout the movie.

            Hats off as well to the masterful acting by each and every one of the cast members involved in this project.  The casting of this film included some truly talented individuals.  As I later found out when I watched the documentary included in this DVD, Jon Avnet had much to do with the selection of actors to portray the numerous roles in the film.  My opinion is that Avnet did a bang-up job! 

            Kathy Bates is terrific as Evelyn Couch.  Bates has a way of owning the character she portrays, making that character appear to be a real part of our world instead of some invention from someone else’s imagination.  Jessica Tandy is a natural – I can’t imagine anyone else as the lovable Ninny Threadgoode.  Mary Louise Parker, in my opinion, is a rather under-rated actress.  Having seen her in some incredibly dramatic roles – as Ruth in Fried Green Tomatoes, as Linda in A Place for Annie, Robin in Boys on the Side – I know that Parker possesses an incredible believability factor.  I’ve also seen her in full-length comedies as well as the comedic moments found in Fried Green Tomatoes and Boys on the Side.  It’s obvious to me that Mary Louise Parker has great range as an actress.  I’ve seen quite a few movies that include Mary Stuart Masterson as a cast member.  Whether she is a member of an ensemble cast or starring in a lead role, Masterson always displays talent and poise, no matter how challenging the role.  I’ve seen her in movies that bombed at the box office and have never been able to say one adverse word about her acting abilities.  Masterson is a pro and I loved her as Idgie Threadgoode.

            In addition to the terrific performances by the lead actors, Fried Green Tomatoes is blessed with a plethora of supporting actors who deserve just as much credit for their performances: Stan Shaw in his portrayal of Big George, one of Idgie’s closest friends; the remarkable Cicely Tyson as Sipsey, Threadgoode family friend and mother of Big George; Timothy Scott as Smokey Lonesome, the alcoholic train tramp with a good heart; Nick Searcy as the despicable Frank Bennett, Ruth’s husband; Gary Basaraba as Sheriff Grady Kilgore; Chris O’Donnell as Buddy Threadgoode, Idgie’s brother; and Raynor Scheine as Sheriff Curtis Smoote.  All of these actors did an amazing job in helping to bring their characters to life.

            The soundtrack of Fried Green Tomatoes fits the movie perfectly.  It’s a mix of country, blues, oldies and contemporary music.  Much of the soundtrack is performed by various performers with a variety of styles and features such artists as Jodeci, Taylor Dayne, Patti La Belle and Marion Williams, just to name a few.  The musical score composed by Thomas Newman is absolutely incredible.

            In addition to the movie, the Anniversary Edition of Fried Green Tomatoes included a few extras, the most notable being a documentary about the making of the movie.  In Moments of Discovery: The Making of Fried Green Tomatoes, we learn about the dedication of everyone involved in making this movie.  This documentary combines several interviews of cast and crew members.  There are also interviews with Fannie Flagg, the author of the novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, upon which this movie is based. 

            Some documentaries can be very dry and…well, frankly, quite boring.  However, this documentary shoots back and forth between the actors, director, author and crew members, each offering little known facts about the creation of the film and personal, often funny tales about the filming itself.  One such humorous story involved a scene filmed in a pond.  Apparently, when director Jon Avnet was laying out the scene, a water moccasin decided to accompany him there.  He was not the only victim of the pond’s indigenous wildlife – Mary Louise Parker had a run in with a particularly hungry leech!

            I had always admired the ability of Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker and their ability to portray the close bond of friendship felt between the characters that they portrayed.  In watching this documentary, I learned that the two had become fast friends on the set and that they really weren’t acting when it came to the friendship aspect of their character’s relationship.  When they discussed the food fight scene, it was with fondness and genuine laughter.  Much of the scene was mapped out, but a great deal of it was unscripted and you could tell that the actresses had terrific fun in its creation.

            Moments of Discovery revealed the difficulty of transforming a novel into a script and still keeping the basic integrity of the novel.  Fannie Flagg revealed that she had made an attempt at the transformation but failed.  Other people were commissioned to complete the task, but came up just short of the intended goal.  One script even turned the novel into a musical.  I simply can’t imagine Fried Green Tomatoes as a musical.  Finally, Jon Avnet’s love for the book pushed him to write the script that was used for the film.

            In watching this documentary, I was surprised to learn that much of the set used to create Whistle Stop wasn’t actually a sound stage created for the film.  The director and his crew actually found a mostly abandoned town and set up shop there.  The town was fairly deserted and quite overgrown.  In fact, if you’re observant enough, you’ll notice that the graffiti on the wall of one of the shops shown in what is supposed to be present-day Whistle Stop displays a single word – “KUDZU”.  This is in reference to the foliage of the same name that had to be removed from the facade of many of the structures in the town.  I was delighted to discover that the town they used resurrected itself after the filming was over.  Ruth and Idgie’s Whistle Stop Café actually exists and is filled with memorabilia from the film.

            Now, anyone who knows me knows how much I love outtakes and deleted scenes, so I was happy to see that this DVD included these sections.  Upon viewing the deleted scenes, I had to wonder why these scenes were cut at all.  Why weren’t these scenes added into the movie’s extended version?  When I watched Moments of Discovery, I realized that there were even more deleted scenes that never even made it into the Deleted Scenes section of the extras.  Why not?  The outtakes from the movie were funny, but I expected more – I eventually got more from the documentary, but why have a section marked Outtakes when the funnier outtakes were included in the documentary?

            The DVD extras also included a Poster Campaign (I had no idea just how many posters there were for Fried Green Tomatoes), Production Photos (a virtual ton of these) and Sipsey’s Recipes, a set of down home cooking recipes that you can also find in the back of the original novel.  I can’t wait to make me some fried green tomatoes!  Every time I watch the film, my mouth waters at the sight of them.

            So, now that you know I love the movie and would recommend it to just about anyone, you’re probably wondering how I felt about the Anniversary Edition of the film.  Well, I loved the extended version of the movie and the documentary that was included in this edition.  To me, purchasing the Anniversary Edition is worth it just for those particular features.  But, if you’re just interested in the movie, you can buy any version of the film and be satisfied.  As for reading the novel the movie is based on – I’ve read it and it was highly enjoyable.  However, I must remind people that the movie was based upon some of the characters and some of the situations.  If you don’t separate the novel from the film in your mind, you’re likely to be disappointed.  If you can separate the two, I’m sure you’ll find that they are both enjoyable in their own ways. 

            In any case, watching Fried Green Tomatoes is a must for any serious movie fan.  It has everything – important messages delivered and wrapped in an incredibly enjoyable story (truly two stories in one), a great soundtrack, fantastic acting, incredible scenery, attention to detail and more.  This is a movie created through the love and devotion of all involved and it certainly shows.  Fried Green Tomatoes is definitely a movie worth watching again and again and again and….

 


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