Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
The Disciples of James Dean meet up on the anniversary of his death and mull over their lives in the present and in flashback, revealing the truth behind their complicated lives. Who is the mysterious Joanne and what's the real story behind Mona's son, James Dean Junior?
Sandy Dennis ... Mona
Cher ... Sissy
Karen Black ... Joanne
Sudie Bond ... Juanita
Kathy Bates ... Stella Mae
Marta Heflin ... Edna Louise
Mark Patton ... Joe Qualley
Caroline Aaron ... Martha
Ruth Miller ... Clarissa
Gena Ramsel ... Sue Ellen
Ann Risley ... Phyllis Marie
Dianne Turley Travis ... Alice Ann
I remember when this film came out... I was an Altman fan then but I could never convince any of my friends to go see this with me (I was in high school at the time). Twenty years later I finally catch it on Bravo, and found it well worth the wait (and boy am I glad I popped a tape in to record it).
The acting in this film is superb, as is the direction (as you'd expect). Altman has taken a stage play that takes place on a single set and brought it to the screen in a way that manages to preserve the theatrical ideosyncracies (e.g., the actresses don't change their appearance, or even their outfits in some cases, in flashbacks to twenty years earlier) while still being masterfully "cinematic" in the way Altman composes his images.
If anything, the Achilles' heel of this movie is its script, which appears to be taken verbatim from the original stage play. There were times, especially towards the beginning of the movie, when it seemed somewhat awkward, but in a way that probably wouldn't seem as out-of-place in a play. I guess that's why they call it "stagy". But still, it's a minor complaint, and the great acting and compelling story more than make up for it.
Character studies don't come any better than this offbeat look at small-town self-delusion. Robert Altman, best known for sweeping epics like Nashville, shows us that even on a smaller physical scale he is an original, highly inventive director. The low-budget production uses 16-millimeter photography and a single set to create a desolate, lonely atmosphere that mirrors the characters' hidden emotional turmoil. Although we only glimpse a tiny portion through the store window, we get a perfect feel for the dusty isolation of dying McCarthy, Texas. Five and Dime also contains hidden elements of symbolism that you may not notice at first but add another layer to the brilliance of the film.
Still, as with any play, it's all about the acting. And here, the acting is impeccable, especially that of top-billed stars Sandy Dennis, Cher, and Karen Black. Dennis is Mona, the stubbornly (and dangerously) romantic leader of the Disciples; Cher is Sissy, the blowsy sex symbol with a painful secret; and Black is Joanne, a mysterious "stranger" who cracks everyone's delusions. All three are terrific and should have received more recognition for their roles herein. Great support is provided by the Marta Heflin, the delightful Kathy Bates, and Sudie Bond as the shrill, bigoted owner of the Woolworth's.
This is not a film for everyone. There is no action, by the traditional definition. But this examination fantasy and reality, how life is and how we would like it to be, is a haunting exercise in acting, direction, and emotional involvement.
Although I saw this film many years ago, and I have seen it only once, the memories are still strong and I often think back to the feelings and thoughts it thrust upon me. Too few movies I have seen in my life stay with me very long...this on one that has.
I am not sure if this was written a stage play. The fact that it only has one location suggests that it was. The characters are complex and have so much depth that I am almost sure it was. They have not been written as characters to be placed over a story, they are the story.
I saw this movie late one night. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I was on a low. Maybe I was open to suggestion. Who knows? But. When I saw this movie, it stirred so many feelings within me, opened up my mind to so many thoughts and questioned so many things not only in my life but in the world in general that it could not have just passed without making it's mark.
If you like to watch movies that make you truly 'think' and which take you inside them...sometime to places you do not wish to go, then I whole heartedly recommend this one.
Take something away with you from this one and the world will be a better place....and you will be a better person.