FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
The ’90s cinema was abundant with feminist films; there was Thelma & Louise, Nikita, The Silence of the Lambs, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Fried Green Tomatoes, The River Wild, Bound, G.I. Jane, Jackie Brown, Elizabeth, etc.
Among those films, Fried Green Tomatoes is the one whose approach to feminism I liked the most. It doesn’t feature gun-toting women, rather it features everyday women who aren’t afraid to speak their mind and assert themselves.
The film starts with forty-something Evelyn Couch (played by Kathy Bates), a bored housewife whose marriage to an inattentive husband (Gailard Sartain) is as bland as a tasteless salad. Evelyn is a polite, loving woman; but most people — including her husband, Ed — do not appreciate her worth. This predicament of hers has brought her nothing but low self-esteem.
While visiting her grouchy aunt-in-law at a nursing home in Birmingham, Evelyn is approached by a friendly elderly woman named Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy). Ninny tells Evelyn the story of Imogene Louise “Idgie” Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker).
Idgie is Ninny’s sister-in-law. She is the youngest of the Threadgoode family. Idgie is a free-spirited tomboy whose only best friend is her brother, Buddy (Chris O’Donnell). After Buddy’s tragic death, Idgie practically left her family and withdrew from civilization. At the behest of Mama Threadgoode (Lois Smith), Ruth comes to Whistle Stop and convinces Idgie to return to her family.
Ruth was Buddy’s girl. A daughter of a preacher man, Ruth is the exact opposite of Idgie: Ruth is prim and proper, doesn’t drink or smoke, and regularly goes to church. But differences aside, Idgie and Ruth became emotionally connected with each other. And they eventually became dear friends. But their blooming friendship is suddenly cut short when Ruth moves to Valdosta, Georgia and marries Frank Bennett (Nick Searcy), a seemingly genial man who is actually a wife beater and a racist. Idgie goes to Valdosta and rescues her pregnant best friend from the abusive Frank.
Orphaned, Ruth was virtually adopted by the Threadgoode family; that’s why she named her baby Buddy Threadgoode Jr. Papa Threadgoode (Danny Nelson) helped Idgie and Ruth start a business called the Whistle Stop Café. They had Sipsey (Cicely Tyson) and Big George (Stan Shaw) as their cook. Fried green tomatoes, along with Big George’s barbeque, are one of the café’s best-sellers. And the Whistle Stop Café became the heart of the town.
As the film moves on, Evelyn becomes best friends with Ninny. Inspired by Idgie’s spunk, Evelyn transforms into a self-asserting woman who finally found the nerve to stand up to Ed.
A number of times, the film’s narrative shifts between Evelyn’s story (set during the 1980s) and Idgie and Ruth’s story (set between World War I and World War II). Fried Green Tomatoes is a multilayered film with themes including female friendship, feminism, race, and religion. Although usually categorized under drama and comedy, the film also has a tinge of suspense, thriller, mystery, and romance in it.
Fried Green Tomatoes is actually a lesbian love story marketed as a chick flick. Written by Fannie Flagg and Carol Sobieski, the screenplay was based on Flagg’s novel: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. In the book, Idgie and Ruth are a couple. But the producers wanted the film to appeal to heterosexual audiences, that’s why they decided to portray Idgie and Ruth as best friends. Although Idgie and Ruth were heterosexualized in the film, an open heart and mind can sense an apparent romance between the two. Director Jon Avnet has said that the food fight scene is an analogy for a love scene, but I found the bee charming and honey dipping scene more erotic — mainly because it’s rich in sly sensuality, possessing a subtle implication of romantic love.
Geoffrey Simpson’s cinematography is as lovely as the film, it really captures the nostalgic aura of the South. The music, just like the film itself, has the power to resonate in your mind. Thomas Newman’s score is wonderful. Big George, which features Marion Williams’ astounding vocals, is by far one of the beautifully haunting pieces of music I’ve ever heard.
Kathy Bates is charming as Evelyn. The film features one of Miss Bates’ versatile performances; she was very convincing as a timid and frustrated Evelyn and a confident and nobody-messes-with-me Evelyn. Miss Bates is definitely one of the best character actresses around.
Jessica Tandy is delightful as Ninny. Although I’m not familiar with most of Miss Tandy’s works, I found her performance very infectious and simply delightful. She seems very natural as Ninny.
Of the four principal actors, Mary-Louise Parker is the weakest. Her performance is not that bad, but it’s not that good either. In most of the films I’ve seen her in, Mary-Louise Parker is just Mary-Louise Parker. In this film, she’s still Mary-Louise Parker… with a Southern accent. But although the usual MLP-isms — looking surprised, smirking, monotonous voice and facial expressions — are there, Miss Parker is captivatingly beautiful as Ruth. Her beauty is soft and delicate, almost ethereal.
Standing (L-R): MLP and MSM as Ruth and Idgie.
A film with a heart, mind, and soul, Fried Green Tomatoes truly satisfied my taste buds.
Trailer for Fried Green Tomatoes:
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