In 1975, in a small Texas town, a group of High School friends reunite to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the death of film icon James Dean. The reunion, of course, re-opens old wounds and brings to the surface long-held secrets.
Reaction & Thoughts:
After series of consecutive flops, director Robert Altman (M*A*S*H and The Player) sold his company, Lion’s Gate, and decided to turn a series of stage plays into movies. Ed Graczyk’s Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean was the first one of those projects.
Altman had directed the play on Broadway, where it had an unsuccessful run — the play closed after only 52 performances. Altman, however, was convinced that Graczyk’s play was perfect for cinema, and using his own money, he re-united the original cast and shot the entire film in less that three weeks. The director decided not to open up the play — the entire film takes place inside a single set. Altman does a few tricks with the camera, sound, and editing, but this is essential canned theater.
I’m a film purist — I believe that in movies you are supposed to tell the story primarily through images — so Altman’s technique offends my movie sensibilities. If you don’t have similar hang-ups about movies, you’ll probably enjoy this film a bit more than I did.
The uncinematic quality of the film is not my only quibble. I had a few issues with the play’s structure. Graczyk’s plot is stuffed with high-pitched Southern clichés, and the surprises are telegraphed in advance. Similar-themed stories like Crimes of the Heart and Steel Magnolias are far more authentic explorations of the Southern culture. The film is at its best when exploring the ills of fanboyism, not only a recurring motif in the director’s work, but also an important topic in today’s social-media-driven-society.
Whatever energy Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean has seems to come from the fabulous cast. Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) plays the flighty Mona. Karen Black (Five Easy Pieces) is the sophisticated Joanne. Cher (Moonstruck) is free-spirited Sissy. Kathy Bates (Misery), in one of her first movie roles, plays Stella Mae. Sudie Bond (Silkwood) is Juanita. Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge) plays hired-hand Joe Qualley. All of them reprised their stage roles for the movie. It’s hard to pick a favorite one, but I thought Cher and Black were particularly great.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean fails as cinema, but the film preserves the original Broadway production for posterity and that’s something that can’t be easily dismissed. If you are a fan of any of the ladies, you don’t want to miss this movie. Color, 109 minutes, Rated PG.