I chose to critique the film Fried Green Tomatoes. I wanted to show that this film is about two friendships between four women that prove that when you find that person that is your best friend, you find the best in yourself. This film was released in 1991. It was based on the book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fanny Flagg. Ms. Flagg was also the one who wrote the screenplay as well.
The movie is filmed in the present, which would have been 1990-ish, where we meet Evelyn Couch who is visiting a nursing home with her husband, Ed. She meets a lonely old woman Cleo Threadgoode, whom everyone calls Ninny, and they begin talking. Ninny shares a story with Evelyn about Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison, taking place in the 1920’s and the 1930’s. We see dual storylines here. The first in the present with Evelyn and Ninny and then the story of Idgie and Ruth in the past, both of them being told chronologically but at different periods of time.
In the first, or establishing shot, we hear a train whistle and the camera pans over a ghost town and eventually stopping at a run-down building that says The Whistle Stop Cafe. Watching this movie, I found myself laughing, then crying and then laughing and feeling happy. I found myself relating to the characters, most of them in one way or another which was a good feeling. I saw the insecurity in Evelyn, the way that she is so passive and shy. She is very naive. She is trying to get her husband to pay attention to something other than sports on television.
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He comes home from work, picks up his dinner that has been set on the table, grabs a beer and then he sits in his chair and ignores her. The stubbornness of Idgie, she is one that does what she wants, when she wants and won’t follow the rules, even if they are in her best interest. The quiet strength of Ruth, she can be the most kind and ladylike woman, but when it comes to her child or her best friend, she is willing to do anything to keep them safe. The carefree Ninny, who does not seem to have ever met a stranger, may be old, but is very direct and lovable.
I think that through the movie we see that within each set of friends, that in the beginning there is one that is shy and passive and then other is outspoken and extroverted. As their friendships grow, they balance each other out. Evelyn becomes more self-confident and assertive, with her husband for example. Ninny learns that you are never too old to find your best friend. Idgie learns how to let people into her heart, and teaches Ruth how to think for herself and gives her courage to leave her abusive husband.
Ruth tries to tame Idgie’s wild ways and Idgie discovers that she has someone that she can be herself with. All of these things are so very important. The protagonists in this film; Evelyn, Ninny, Idgie, and Ruth each face their own form of enemy or antagonist. For Evelyn, it is her poor self-image. For Ninny, it is her longing to go home. Idgie in this particular point in time is facing the court that is trying her for murder. Ruth faces her abusive husband. All of these things each threaten to hold each of these women back. This film falls into two different genres; drama and comedy.
There is no love story, no fight scenes, nothing explodes. It is the story of friendship and with that you have tears and laughter, like in real life. The film is set in the fictional town of Whistle Stop, Alabama and in Valdosta, Georgia. You can hear the southern twang in the accents of the characters that would suggest the southern descent. The score contains several southern gospel, blues, and then some soft pop ballads, but throughout the movie the sound of a train whistle is prevalent both in the presence of a train and without.
The use of a train is vital to the film. The train is where Idgie and Ruth have their first “adventure” stowing away in a train car containing food and throwing that food to needy families along the track. The train is present during the important moments in the film; when we first see Evelyn, Buddy’s death, the birth of Ruth’s son, Frank Bennett’s murder, when we are told of Ruth’s cancer. There is voice over from Ninny when we go from the present to the past. We hear her talk about the past and then there is a fade out and then in.
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These are often used at the beginning and/or end of a scene or sequence as a sort of punctuation mark, fading into a shot from a black screen or fading to black at the end, like bringing the lights up or down during a stage play (Goodykoontz 2011).
Other sounds in the movie are used to let audience be aware of the character’s surroundings. For example, when Idgie goes to the stump to get the honey, we hear the buzzing of bees, or scenes from the cafe you can hear things sizzling and cooking. The four main actors in this film are; Kathy Bates/Evelyn, Jessica Tandy/Ninny, Mary Stuart Masterson/Idgie, and Mary Louise Parker/Ruth. Imdb1991) They are all wild card actors, which made this film enjoyable to watch. With no one typecast into any certain role, you could not predict how one was going to act or do. It made it easier to picture these actors in the roles that they played here. Each actor was well chosen to play each role. The personalities of the actors fit with the personalities of the character of the story. When I read the book now, I see Kathy Bates when I read about Evelyn and Mary Louise Parker when I read about Ruth. It makes the story more enjoyable, I think when I can read it and watch along in my head.
The clothing worn depicts the time period very well. We know that it is warm by the way that people are dressed; light flowing dresses and simple pants and shirts with the sleeves rolled up. The hairstyles also compliment the time; hair up and pinned or put up softly so that some curls flow for the women and the men had very short and well kept hair. Those men who had hair kept it slicked back or in a traditional curl. Everyone in the past storyline seems to constantly wear a gleam of sweat if they appear outdoors. Only in the present-day storyline are we able to measure time, and that done here with holidays.
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In the beginning we see Evelyn bringing a basket of candy to her husband’s aunt. Then we see different decorations in the nursing home, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. The past is different because Ninny is telling the story so she says when things happen so we are not left to guess for ourselves. The lighting in this film is tied to the mood of the particular scene. The sun shines when things are good and happy. When Frank comes to take the baby away, it is a tense scene and is shown with dark lighting and lots of shadows. It gives a menacing tone.
When there are deaths, the lighting is dull and sorrowful, and even the weather is a factor. During the more somber scenes, it is cloudy and rainy which gives a sense of sadness to the already dismal part of the storyline. A normal lens was used to shoot this movie as the scenes are shot as if one was seeing them with their own eyes. The effect that this film has on society is that it presents a realistic and classic view of friendship that people can in some way relate to. It has a great deal of fiction in regards to the storyline. But there are some parts that have a bit of truth to them.
The matter of racism, given the time period, is portrayed as it has been documented in history books. The presence of the Ku Klux Klan is another piece of our nation’s history. Not a great one, but still a true one. The film is directed, produced, and written by Jon Avnet, who is credited with such films as The War and Up Close and Personal. Mr. Avnet worked with author Fannie Flagg to write the screenplay. This story may have “chick flick” written all over it but one should not be fooled, there is more to this film than just four chicks laughing and crying together.
There is, of course, the story of friendship, but there is mystery, there is a bit of our dark history, there’s a murder and then there is food. Fried green tomatoes and the best barbeque you ever had…the secret’s in the sauce.