on March 15, 2013
I can't remember when I first saw this film, well over 30 years ago. What attracted me the most was the contrast between a life of privilege and a struggling working-class existence, and the main character's (Bobby Dupea) struggle to decide which one is right for him. The scene between Bobby and his ailing father is one of the most touching and riveting I've ever seen. Jack Nicholson's powerful, not to mention Academy Award-nominated, performance really makes Bobby so real. Karen Black's portrayal of Rayette is awesome. Also worth mentioning is Tammy Wynette's Grammy Award-winning music on the movie's soundtrack.
on July 11, 2003
This film provided one of the first demonstrations of the sheer emotional power of Jack Nicholson as a force of nature, a power unlikely to veer course based on the actions of other human beings. Given this, this part of estranged classic pianist Bobby Dupea is a tour de force, an examination of just how difficult and angst-filled attempting to live a life of meaning in the time frame of the turbulent 1960s can be. Dupea is estranged not only from his high-brow family of cultured and well-placed affluent musicians living along the Pacific coast in the Northwest, but is estranged from everything he personally found so unacceptable about almost every element of his existence.
When the film opens Nicholson's character is working as a laborer in a southwestern dustbowl, scratching together a trailer-trash existence together with his hapless and emotionally challenged girlfriend, played to perfection by Karen Black. One immediately recognizes the level of inner-directed anger and consequent fits of uncontrollable rage that Bobby has to deal with, and despite all his attempts to simply ignore and block out the inner demons that drive him to distraction, he is losing the battle to wall out the noise coming from inside his head. His girlfriend is pregnant, ready to get serious and settle down, and the idea of such smarmy normality fills Bobby with undisguised disgust. As their relationship spins toward its inevitable unhappy conclusion, Bobby gets a cryptic emergency message to return home. His father appears to be dying.
At this point the movie shifts gears, both by giving us a movie within a movie in a very comical, bizarre and entertaining road trip from hell, and then a coda of cultural ambiance and civility when Bobby, now at home and attempting to somehow deal with his demons and his family at the same time, gets involved with the lovely Susan Aspatch, whose character tempts Nicholson back toward the cultured lifestyle and the more meaningful existence he had eschewed, yet reminding him of the innate sense of purposelessness and futility such a privileged existence represents to him.
The most memorable scene in the movie, and possibly the most revealing on a number of levels, is his attempt to explain his nomadic existence to his wheel chair ridden father. While he doesn't really succeed in the effort, he becomes much more understandable and less incomprehensible by virtue of his demonstration of what he thinks and his own level of not truly understanding himself or his feelings. The final few scenes are as elegant a representation of the chaotic and confused emotional feelings emanating out of the sixties as anything I have ever seen on film. This is an extraordinary film, and one I think you will truly come to appreciate for the breath taking work of cinematic art it is. Enjoy!
on June 7, 2004
In a story of two worlds and what happens when they collide, Jack Nicholson gives a performance that should have won an Academy Award. As Bobby Dupea, Nicholson abandons his privilaged life for that of an aimless drifter- something he will eventually apologize for. He goes from being a talented musician to working as an oil rigger but a family illness will bring him back to his affluent roots and it is here that he must decide the course the rest of his life will take. And while all the perfomances are excellent, it is Nicholson that keeps us spellbound. In a long career, he has played many facinating characters but in my humble opinion, it is as the wasted talent Bobby Dupea that Nicholson shines the brightest.
on November 18, 2003
This is one of my favorite films.
A depiction of the two conflicting lifestyles of one man is what "Five Easy Pieces" depicts. Bobby Dupea's downfaults have led him to a less rewarding life than what he could have potentially had. This is exposed even in the two main female interests of Bobby Dupea in the film. His girlfriend Rayette ; a loving yet simple Tammy Wynette-singing country waitress that he cheats on unjustly. Then there is Catherine; a sophisticated , intelligent , classically trained musician. Catherine is a partial reflection of what his life could have been and in the end of the film he is caught between returning to his ho-hum red neck life that he currently leads to returning to and embrassing a richer life he should have had with a much more sophisticated woman that he sincerely loves.
There are classic moments in this film that I don't really need to go over because we already know them but for me the film becomes more intriguing when he finally arrives at the island to visit his ill father and encounters Catherine.
I like to believe that at the very end of the film that he is returning back to the island to win Catherine and start a new life with her but , knowing the character of Bobby Dupea , he's probably running away from his current life to a completely new and uncertain one and that is the tragedy of Bobby Dupea; he is running away....again. Where he is going we don't truely know. We can only assume.
This film is deceptively complex because of the dynamic humanistic detail thats shown of all the characters in this film and how they relate to one another.
Great film! One of Jack Nicholson's best work and Karen Black is unforgettable as Rayette.....and its letterboxed too.
I saw this film when it was first released more than 30 years ago. Seeing it again recently, I was surprised by how much my reactions to it have changed during the last three decades. Nicholson's personality in the role of Bobby Eroica Dupea has become almost a cliché since 1970. Then, for example, I was wholly unprepared for the chicken salad sandwich episode in the diner; not so today. That is precisely how a Jack Nicholson character should react. All this is by way of suggesting that Nicholson as Bobby Dupea is not only a stunning performance; it also creates certain expectations to which Warren Schmidt is a courageous exception.
What is this film about? What are the meaning and significance of its title? People continue to disagree about these and other issues. To me, the film is about dysfunctional people who comprise (inevitably) a dysfunctional family. All they share in common (other than bloodline) is a love of classical music. Dupea's life is in pieces (easy or otherwise) and he really doesn't how how to fit them together. As directed by Bob Rafelson, the cast provides a number of excellent performances which are, more often than not, as out of sync with each other as all of them are with the Nixon Era in which they then lived. Most of them seem to have a "What the hell, why bother?" attitude. Rayette Dipesto is an exception. Brilliantly portrayed by Karen Black in a performance (then and now) deserving of much more praise that it has received, Rayette is Bobby's pregnant girlfriend. She seems lost amidst a violent storm and desperately seeks warm and secure shelter. He treats her with about as much respect as his character Jonathan does other women in Carnal Knowledge (1971): Not much, if any. She yearns to stand by her man. More often than not, he would rather be somewhere else.
For me, the most poignant moments in the film occur when Bobby returns home and is reunited with his father, sister Tita (Lois Smith), brother Carl (Ralph Waite) and his wife Catherine (Susan Anspach). Only then do we begin to sense -- if not fully understand -- the nature and extent of Bobby's malaise. More specifically, we begin to understand at least a few of the reasons for his anger, indeed rage...much of it consciously or unconsciously directed against himself.
Thirty years ago, there was so much angst in the American culture, not only against the war in Viet Nam but against the philosophical infrastructure of American society. So many of those in Dupea's generation and (especially) in the one which followed it raged against institutions and traditions which they considered worthless, if not inherently evil. Having once shattered all compasses and destroyed all the maps, they then had no sense of where they were...much less where they were heading. Nor did many seem to care. "What difference does it make?"
Paradoxically, Bobby combines both angst and apathy. Nicholson is among few actors I can think of who can demonstrate both at full strength within the same scene, sometimes in the same incandescent moment. If an actor were a transmission, Nicholson seems to have at least 14 gears and probably more. His emotional range and versatility are stunning. (Consider his performances as S.M. 1 Budduskey in The Last Detail, Tom Logan in The Missouri Breaks, Jack Torrance in The Shining, and Colonel Nathan R. Jessep in A Few Good Men.) Sadly, for whatever reasons, Rafelson never again produced work as a director of a quality comparable with his achievement in this film. This was for Nicholson, however, a breakthrough performance and for all we know, his best work may lie ahead.
on April 28, 2003
I think my own inability to be content with my life is what drew me to the character of Bobby Eroica Dupea in 'Five Easy Pieces'. I first watched this movie in high school, jus' as I was developin' an extreme admiration for Jack Nicholson's work, an' right in the middle of some pipe dream I had 'bout becomin' a filmmaker. It stayed heavily on my mind for some time. But it wasn't until I got outta school, moved outta my moms' house, started workin' fulltime, started jumpin' from place to place, an' strugglin' to balance a lovelife amidst it all, that I realized jus' HOW MUCH I related to Bobby in this movie. Is' obvious from the first scene of him workin' at his construction gig to his bitter interaction with his girlfriend, is' automatically clear that he is completely unhappy with the direction his life is goin'. An' probably has been all his life no matter what he did. The way he pushes away his friends an' refuses to let anyone get too close to him are jus' the makings of a tortured soul. I think a lot more people relate to Bobby than are willing to let on, because as I watch this movie now I can see things that Bobby did an' the ways he handled certain situations that wholly mirror my own. Even the smallest thing, like after he finds out his father is dying and decides to go home for a few weeks, greatly upsetting his long-suffering girlfriend Rayette (played with excellent conviction by Karen Black). She sits there weeping an' moaning in bed as he packs his suitcase and starts out the door, but as he gets in his car, his conscience seems to kick in, an' after a barrage of loud obscenity-filled screams to himself, he angrily gets outta the car an' goes back in the house to tell Rayette to come with him. She's overjoyed an' they ride all the way out to Washington an' end up stayin' in a motel. When Rayette queries Bobby 'bout how mad he looks an' he refuses to talk to her she says "Well, if it's me your mad at, I could jus' catch a Greyhound back." Infuriated, Bobby says "Oh, you're not gonna kill yourself this time. I wish I'd known..." A line like 'at is priceless an' the kinda sarcastic comment that people who're discontent thrive on.
When Bobby finally goes back home to his folks' house, the situation only gets worse. Is' apparent that even his family doesn't have an inkling of an idea of how to relate to him; is' as if the closest people to him are the ones who understand him the LEAST. The real key to his insecurities comes out in his tearful attempt to explain his life to his father in one'a the final scenes out on the shoreline. The scared little boy inside of Bobby all comes out here.
I don't wanna give too much away, but the ending is all at once heartbreaking an' thought-provoking (I wonder a lot if put in that position I woulda done the same thing). I'd say this is very close to bein' my favorite movie of all time. The subtle complexity of Nicholson's performance is the stuff the younger generation of actors should be studying, because is' one'a the finest, most believable an' most clearly-carved of all time. (Oh, an' by the way, my absolute FAVORITE scene comes toward the beginning where Bobby an' Elton have jus' been eighty-sixed from the job site an' are stuck in a traffic jam. As he sips on a half-pint'a bard liquor, Bobby gets outta the car frustrated at the gridlock. He sees a piano on the back of a moving truck, climbs aboard an' starts playin' the piano frantically an' angrily as the truck pulls away. Is' the first hint at the other side'a Bobby an' a classic image that will stick with you forever.)
on April 8, 2003
A fantastic character study, Five Easy Pieces makes tangible an undefined fear of the past and the tragedy of always having to run away. Labouring on a California oil rig, Robert Eroica Dupea (Jack Nicholson) sweats mightily and exchanges the usual innuendo-laden remarks with friend Elton (Billy "Green" Bush). It's hard work and all Bobby has to look forward to is some after-work gambling and shallow girlfriend Rayette Dipesto (Karen Black), back in their tacky motel room. Ray works as a waitress and sings along with Tammy Wynette tunes, a far cry from Bobby's background (the hint is in his name). Once upon a time he was a promising classical pianist in a musically orientated family. Now, though, he guzzles beer and goes bowling with Elton and his wife Stoney (Fannie Flagg).
Life as an oil-rigger is a real humdrum existence, particularly when you don't know why you're doing it. Sometimes Bobby argues with the foreman or gets stinking drunk with Elton, which achieves the same effect as far as work's concerned. One time Bobby jumps onto the back of a truck, while they're grid- locked on the highway, and starts bashing away at the old piano strapped there. The truck drives away from Elton, with Bobby still playing tunes that nobody else will recognise - a brief flash of brilliance, a hint of what might have been. Another time Elton gets dragged away by the cops for holding up a gas station, just when Bobby has finds out that Ray is pregnant. Unready for commitment, this sort of pressure is just too much for Bobby to take, so he heads off for LA without a word.
In the busy metropolis Bobby, without really trying, tracks down his sister Partita (Lois Smith) in a recording studio. After an emotional reunion the, obviously fragile, Partita mentions that their father Nicholas (William Challee) has suffered a pair of debilitating strokes. An accidental and unwanted reminder for Bobby of his past. Although Bobby hasn't visited home for several years, now might be a good time because it may be the last chance to see his father. Even with this impetus Bobby is unhappy about trekking all the way up to Puget Sound, where he'll see his supercilious brother Carl Fidelio (Ralph Waite) again. Still Carl apparently has a bright, young student, Catherine Van Ost (Susan Anspach), who might prove interesting. However, Ray insists on tagging along to meet his family (a prospect he dreads - the meeting of dissimilar worlds). Then they pick up a pair of lesbian hitch-hikers and the trip gets really interesting!
Five Easy Pieces is an unusually easy movie to watch, partly because it's a fine piece of work and partly through its amazingly relaxed atmosphere. Without pressure stemming from a need to rush through to the script's conclusion, characters are able to come and go, to naturally inhabit the landscape of the picture. The other aspect of this deliberate pacing is that it reflects the personality of Bobby, a man for whom there will never by a definite ending, only a succession of vague plateaus. Strangely this makes Bobby a highly compelling person, someone to whom the normal laws of relationships fail to apply. He can get away with treating people like dirt and looking down on them even as he pretends to be working class, a facade which allows him to smother his unfocused anguish beneath a blanket of physical exhaustion and alcohol. He doesn't belong in the motel-living community but neither does he belong in the rarified atmosphere of Puget Sound - he really is a nowhere man.
Throughout the entire cast of Five Easy Pieces there are no examples of bad acting, miscasting or shallow characterisation. Whilst not everyone is able to plumb the depths of subtlety that Nicholson achieves, every role has a spark which brings it to life (even the non-functional Nicholas). Contrasting the two strata of society that Bobby bridges, the collision between soap-opera connoisseur and intellectual culture-vulture is embodied in Ray (when she arrives at the mansion). She is way out of depth with these high-brow artists, which graphically illustrates the gulf between Bobby and Ray, yet she retains her own dignity and sense of worth. The Dupea's have constructed an almost incestuous retreat, divorced from "reality" and explanation enough for Bobby's headlong plunge away. Ultimately Bobby is the victim, frustrated by a lack of direction and confused about his needs, a fate which Nicholson ambiguously shows.
Relying on a sophisticated, perceptive script, Five Easy Pieces is a timeless reflection of America and its love/hate relationship with the establishment. In a single, brief scene (involving toast and a recalcitrant waitress), a lifetime of frustration for Bobby is distilled into a sweep of the arm. Backed up by the cinematography of Laszlo Kovacs, Five Easy Pieces says much about the inevitability of life without seeming to. It's a cunning technique which seems entirely appropriate to a film made in the 70s, yet doesn't result in it being out of date 25 years later. A nervy classic.
on August 27, 2002
Most films lean-to characters one can judge in their first frame -- and then the plot takes over. That's the fun. In FIVE EASY PIECES the plot is driven by character -- by Nicholson's Bobby Dupea -- and finding out who he is and what moves him is the pleasure it affords. Rafelson does an amazing job of using a very communicative medium to portray a man who can't communicate, who's alienated from his family, girlfriend, his self and his talents. This stuttering is littered throughout the movie, most poignant when Dupea is trying to appologize to his comatose father and failing. (It's like writing this review -- there's so much I want to put down but just can't figure out a way to do it.) And, while the frustration Dupea feels is genuine, he's not searching, he's running away. Like the hitchhiker, he might seem to the outsider (the film is very much his POV) as just grumbling. And everyone's an outsider.
This is an amazing, powerful film. It has great range: Nicholson's acting is at once pensive and passionate; Rafelson's direction realist and symbolic; the film, like Brecht's plays, is engrossing but not to the point that one forgets the message.
But I'm full of it. Experience it for yourself.
on August 22, 2002
Jack Nicholson shines in this extraordinary 70's film by writer/director Bob Rafelson. Nicholson plays a brilliant musician who hides away from a past he tried desperately to shed. He is a womanizer, and lives with a waitress (Karen Black) who hates and loves him. When he hears that his father is dying, he decides to return to his home, where he faces the ghosts of his past, through photgraphs, pianos, and his ghost-like father. It's about a man who tries to defy the rules. Consider the famous scene in the diner, where Nicholson orders a side order of toast. The waitress frowns at him, and tells him, "No side orders of toast. No substitutions." Instead of accepting it, he tells her, "Bring me a chicken sandwhich. No lettuce, to tomato, no mayo and no chicken." She asks him what to do with the chicken, and he tells her to "hold them between your knees." But afterwards, what most people forget is the small exchange in the car when he says, "It might have been clever, but I didn't get my toast."
on October 29, 2001
How can you not love a movie whose soundtrack successfully intermingles Tammy Wynette songs with classical music pieces??
I like to think of this film as more of a "mood piece" than a "character study". It succeeds tremendously as both; but if I had to describe to someone what is meant by a "mood piece" I would direct them right to this film. It epitomizes the early-70s American wasteland look and feel common in some great "New Hollywood" films of its time (Jack Nicholson was in several such movies, like the classics "The Last Detail" and "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest"). The scene outside the bowling alley especially captures this beautiful grit.
You all probably know the story, so I won't bother with the obligatory references to the diner scene, the hitchhikers, or the truly heartbreaking scene where Robert Eroica Dupea clumsily spills his guts to his sick father. I will admit it took several viewings to truly appreciate this film. But now I rank it as one of my favorites. It's rare to find a film that can take you to a time and place you weren't at and introduce you to people you've never known, yet feel it as if you had.
This one is not to be missed. Give it a few tries if you have to.