Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Five Easy Pieces (dir by Bob Rafelson)


First released in 1970, Five Easy Pieces tells the story of a lost man named Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson).

When we first meet Bobby, he’s working at a California oil field.  He likes to go bowling.  He has a girlfriend named Rayette (Karen Black), who is a country music-obsessed waitress.  His best friend is Elton (Billy “Green” Bush), a friendly redneck with a memorable laugh.  Bobby may have a girlfriend and Elton may be married but that doesn’t stop either one of them from going out at night, getting drunk, and trying to pick up women.

Bobby seems to be just another blue-collar guy with a grudge against the bosses but it doesn’t take long to realize that there’s something different about him.  Bobby may be friends with Elton but it’s obvious that the two of them come from very different background.  No matter how much he tries to hide it, Bobby is smarter than everyone else around him.  When he and Elton get stuck in a traffic jam, Bobby spots a piano sitting on the back of a pickup truck.  Getting out of his car, Bobby yells at everyone who is honking and then climbs up to the piano.  He sits down, he puts his fingers to the keys and he starts to play.  Knowing Bobby, you’re expecting him to just bang the keys and make noise.  Instead, he plays beautiful music.

Later, Bobby steps into a recording studio.  Paritia (Lois Smith), a neurotic woman, is playing the piano.  The recording engineers joke about her lack of talent.  Bobby glares at them, annoyed.  It quickly becomes apparent why Bobby is so protective.  Paritia is Bobby’s sister.

Bobby, it turns out, comes from a wealthy family of musicians.  Everyone in the family has dealt with the pressure to succeed differently.  Paritia continues to play, despite not having much talent.  Bobby’s older brother, the buffoonish Carl (Ralph Waite), plays violin and has staid home with their father (William Challee).  Bobby, on the other hand, ran away from home.  He’s spent his entire life trying to escape from both his talent and his family.  However, when Paritia explains that their father has suffered from two strokes and might not live much longer, Bobby reluctantly decides to return home and try to make some sort of peace with his father.

It’s not as easy a journey as Bobby would have liked.  For one thing, Rayette demands to go with him.  On the drive up to Washington, they pick up two hitchhikers (Helena Kallionetes and Toni Basil), one of whom is obsessed with filth.  In the film’s most famous scene, an attempt to get a simple lunch order modified leads to Bobby losing control.

See, that’s the thing with Bobby.  In many ways, he’s a jerk.  He treats Rayette terribly.  While his family is hardly perfect, the film doesn’t hide from the fact that Bobby isn’t always the easiest person to deal with.  And yet, you can’t help but sympathize with Bobby.  If he seems permanently annoyed with the world … well, that’s because the world’s annoying.  And, to Bobby’s credit, he’s a bit more self-aware than the typical rebel without a cause.  When one of the hitchhikers praises his temper tantrum at the diner, Bobby points out that, after all of that, he still didn’t get the order that he wanted.

In Washington, Bobby tells Rayette to stay at a motel and then goes to see his family.  Bobby seems as out-of-place among his wealthy family as he did hanging out in the oil fields with Elton.  He ends up cheating on Rayette with Carl’s fiancee, a pianist named Catherine van Oost (Susan Anspach).

And then Rayette shows up for dinner…

Five Easy Pieces is a sometimes funny and often poignant character study of a man who seems to be destined to always feel lost in the world.  Bobby spends the whole movie trying to find a place where he can find happiness and every time, reality interferes with his plans.  Nicholson gives a brilliant performance, playing Bobby as a talented guy who doesn’t really like himself that much.  Bobby’s search for happiness leads to a rather haunting ending, one that suggests that some people are just meant to spend their entire life wandering.

Five Easy Pieces was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Patton.

Back to School Part II #10: Grease (dir by Randal Kleiser)


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When it comes to reviewing Grease on this site, the film and I have a long and twisted history.  There have been several times when I was tempted to review Grease but one thing has always stopped me:

I absolutely hate this film.

Grease is one of my least favorite films and, to be honest, just thinking about it causes me pain.  Just about everyone that I know loves Grease.  They love the songs.  They love the music.  They love the performances.  They want to see it on stage.  They want to see it on the big screen.  They watch every time it pops up on AMC.

Growing up as a theater nerd means being surrounded by people who love Grease.  I cannot begin to count the number of times that I forced to watch this movie in school.  So many theater teachers seemed to feel that showing Grease in class was some sort of reward but, for me, it was pure torture.  And the fact that I was usually the only one who disliked the film made the experience all the more unbearable.

Back in 2014, when I was doing the first set of Back To School reviews, I was planning on reviewing Grease.  But I just could not bring myself to voluntarily relive the film.  Instead of putting myself through that misery, I decided to watch and review Rock ‘n’ Roll High School instead.  It was the right decision and I stand by it.

Jump forward two years and here I am doing Back to School again.  And again, for some reason, I had put Grease down as a film to review.  It’s just a movie, right?  And yet, after I finished writing my excellent review of Animal House, I again found myself dreading the idea of having to even think about Grease.

So, I said, “Fuck this,” and I promptly erased Grease from the list and I replaced it with Skatetown USA.  Then I watched Skatetown and I’m glad that I did because that was an experience that I can’t wait to write about!  And yet, I still had this nagging voice in the back of my mind.

“You’re going to have to review Grease at some point,” it said, “If not now, when?”

The voice had a point.  However, I was soon reminded that there was an even more important reason to review Grease.  A little further down on my list of Back to School films to review was a little film called Grease 2.  How could I possibly review Grease 2 if I hadn’t already reviewed Grease?  My OCD would not allow it!

And so, here I am, reviewing Grease.

Grease, of course, is a musical about teenagers in 1958.  Danny (John Travolta) is in love with Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Sandy is in love with Danny.  But Danny’s a greaser and Sandy’s Australian!  Will they be able to work it out, despite coming from different worlds?  Of course they will!  Danny’s willing to dress up like a jock in order to impress Sandy while Sandy’s willing to wear black leather to impress Danny!  Yay!  They go together!  And they’ve got a flying car, too!  YAY!

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And then Satan arrived…

Of course, there’s other subplots as well.  For instance, Frenchy (Didi Conn) nearly drops out of school but she’s visited by Satan (Frankie Avalon) and he manages to change her mind.  And Rizzo (Stockard Channing) might be pregnant because Kenickie (Jeff Conaway) hasn’t bought any new condoms since the 8th grade.  Comparing the sensitive way that teen pregnancy was handled on a show like Degrassi: The Next Generation with the way it’s handled in Grease is enough to make you want to sing “O Canada” every day for the rest of your life.

Here’s what I do like about Grease: Stockard Channing is great as Rizzo, though it’s hard not to feel that she deserves better than a doofus boyfriend like Kenickie and a boring bestie like Sandy.  I also like You’re The One That I Want.  That’s a fun song.

But as for the rest of the movie … BLEH!  I mean, it is so BORING!  It takes them forever to get to You’re The One That I Want.  Olivia Newton-John is so wholesome that she literally makes you want to tear your hair out while John Travolta pretty much acts on auto pilot.  As for the supporting cast, most of them appeared in the stage production of Grease and they still seem to be giving stage performances as opposed to film performances.  They’re still projecting their lines to the back of the house.  Worst of all, it’s obvious that director Randal Kleiser had no idea how to film a musical because the dance numbers are so ineptly staged and framed that, half the time, you can’t even see what anyone’s doing with their feet.  If you can’t see the feet, it defeats the whole purpose of having an elaborate dance number in the first place!

So, no, I don’t like Grease.

Sorry, everyone.

However, I’m sure I’ll enjoy Grease 2….

Love you, Canada!

Love you, Canada!