Sunday, December 6, 2009

Film Review: Five Easy Pieces

Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970): I can't quite put my finger on exactly why, but, after seeing this for the first time, I absolutely adored it. Jack Nicholson plays Robert Dupea, a piano-playing prodigy who left it all behind to toil away at random odd jobs. Currently, he lives with a woman he treats badly, works in the oil fields, pals around with his simple friend, and picks up easy women in bowling alleys. Gradually, he grows tired of the day-to-day grind, culminating in a wonderful scene where, idled in seemingly endless traffic, he exits his vehicle, argues with a barking dog, then climbs onto the back of a moving truck and plays a piano as the traffic finally abates, taking him away from his initial destination. He finds out his father is ailing, picks up and travels north to Washington. The road trip is fascinating, when he picks up a lunatic obsessed with cleanliness and her friend (And it's Toni Basil! Who sang "Hey Mickey, you're so fine!"!!!) who rail about cleanliness and man's destructive tendencies and fight with Robert's girlfriend, until Robert finally tells them all to shut up. It is with this unique company that we get the iconic diner scene, where Robert famously tells a waitress to hold the chicken between her knees. Finally arriving at his father's, he is dismayed to find him unresponsive, felled by a stroke, unable to communicate except the occasional narrowing of the eyes. Along with his father, is Robert's sister, his injured brother, and his brother's student (or is it more?). He immediately falls for the student, who is keenly interested in him, but is it love, or artistic curiosity? She asks to hear him play and he plays a piece and she is deeply moved, until he reveals that he simply picked the easiest one he knew, and that he played it better when he was eight and felt absolutely nothing when he played it, annoying her. I won't spoil the rest, but it's really wonderful. I sometimes feel like Jack Nicholson coasts on his reputation, that he is praised for rather middling work, simply Jack playing Jack, really. But, this is a terrific performance. It's got all the trademark Nicholson moments: smart-alecky comments, that sneering voice, but it also has some rare displays of genuine acting chops: like Robert's teary conversation with his father, where he gets to the very being of his soul, and a tremendous ending where he tells everything in few words. I was really blown away by this. Tremendous.

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