Sometimes, you just need to start anew five times straight.
After her husband dies, Alice (Ellen Burstyn) and her son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), leave their small New Mexico town for California. There, Alice is hopeful that she’ll be able to make it big there achieving her one true dream: Singing. However, the town is so small and dry, that there’s hardly any work for a bartender, let alone for a singer. So eventually, Alice and Tommy end up settling for Arizona instead, where she takes a job as waitress in a small diner and Tommy is left to make friends with some mischievous locals. She intends to stay in Arizona just long enough to make the money needed to head back out on the road, but her plans change when she begins to fall for a rancher named David (Kris Kristofferson), someone she can’t help but be drawn to, even if he’s got his own problems going for him as well.
Seeing Martin Scorsese’s name attached to this flick may seem odd, until you actually see the movie and totally get it. For one, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore has the same type of free-spirit, wild and rather chaotic energy that all of Scorsese’s movies seem to have, not to mention that the movie itself hardly ever seems to let-up. It’s part road movie, part romantic-comedy, but altogether, it’s an entertaining piece that would soon show the world what Scorsese could do out of wheelhouse.
Look out, world! Here’s Alice!
Which isn’t to say that this movie’s perfect, but it’s the first sure sign of Scorsese taking a risk and seeing it pay-off quite well. While I’m most definitely in the minority of feeling like Mean Streets is incredibly overrated, it’s still an enjoyable movie, considering that it’s showing-off what Scorsese could do with a story about crooks, gangsters, cops and all sorts of hectic violence – something that we would see him continue to make movies about for the next many decades. That’s why a movie like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, while seeming like an unabashed and boring chick-flick on paper, moves like a fast-paced thriller, but still doesn’t forget that characters do matter here and they are what make the bulk of the flick so damn good.
That is to say that Ellen Burstyn, in her Oscar-winning role of course, is great.
Then again, when isn’t the gal?
Burstyn’s great here, but it does help that she has such a meaty character to work and play around with; Alice is a very challenging character because she doesn’t always make the right decisions, nor does she seem to apologize for them, either. Scorsese and Burstyn both present this woman as someone who knows that whatever move she makes next, probably won’t be ideal, but she’s constantly thinking about what’s best for her and her son, meaning that every once and awhile, she’s got to make a sacrifice and suck up the stupidity. Even the smart decisions that Alice seems to make, still end-up biting her in the rump by the end, making you wonder whether or not this woman should be trusted with the care of a pre-adolescent boy in the first place. But still, there’s something compelling about this woman, flaws, warts and all that junk, as well as Burstyn’s performance that make it all the more watchable.
The happiest diner in the world it seems.
And it’s actually very interesting to see this movie and think about it in retrospect, as we’ve come to see Scorsese’s career grow further and further away from female-led stories, making us wonder one simple thing, “Why?” After all, he handles this story with such delicate care, never shying away from showing this woman for all of who she is, that he not just respects her as much as we do, but he loves her, even. It’s a rare sign that even though Scorsese’s movies tend to gain all sorts of controversy for their violence, drugs and crime, mostly all involving and/or against women, there’s still this small glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, he was curious of taking this road even further.
It makes you wonder, really.
Regardless, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, all things considered, may be a bit too long for its own good, but in a way, that’s okay. We get to see and learn about more characters throughout Alice’s journey, some of whom are really fun and exciting to watch. Harvey Keitel shows up as a slimy dude Alice starts hooking up with; Kris Kristofferson’s is interesting enough of a dramatic-lead to make you want to see more of him around; Jodi Foster shows up in a very early role as one of Tommy’s friends and is very good; Diane Ladd steals just about every scene she’s in as Alice’s co-worker/best friend; and even as a young kid here, Alfred Lutter does a nice job as Tommy, mostly due to the fact that the kid’s not annoyingly written. He’s a little too smart for his britches at certain points, but that’s mostly because his mom makes him that way; there’s quite a few scenes where the two have heart-to-heart conversations about all things in life and while they may seem a little tacked-on, the chemistry between Lutter and Burstyn is so good, that you sort of believe in it.
Consensus: Not his best by any means, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore still presents a very bright and entertaining picture for the whole cast, especially Burstyn, and Scorsese, and the many years to come.
8 / 10
Keep on smiling, Ellen. You’ll get that Oscar.
Photos Courtesy of: The Soul of the Plot