Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Five Easy Pieces

There are no answers. No directions are given. Often people, when they feel they have no direction, will purposely take the wrong direction. When faced with questions or doubts, they jump ship again and chart a new course.

That is the message of Five Easy Pieces

They don't make them like this anymore. Five Easy Pieces is typically considered to be one of Jack Nicholson's best roles and movies although it's also one of his quieter movies, too. This movie was released in 1970, one year after his rise to prominence in Easy Rider and five years before he really hit it big with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

This was an important time in Nicholson's career and Five Easy Pieces was perhaps his most important film at the time because it was his first time playing the lead actor in a movie. There was no Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Dennis Hopper, or Peter Fonda around to help Nicholson do the heavy lifting. This film relied primarily on Jack Nicholson's ability to make something out of nothing. What was first glimpsed in Easy Rider comes to fruition in Five Easy Pieces and you see a performance that was robbed of the Oscar refused by George C. Scott. 

His surrounding cast isn't without merit, though. Karen Black (one of Nicholson's co-stars from Easy Rider) turns in a good performance in only her fifth movie. She won a Golden Globe for it and was even nominate for an Oscar. Of course, her numerous horror movie (mis)adventures later on in her career sort of undermine the fact that there was a time when Black could actually act in good movies. I mean, she wasn't amazing or anything, but she held her own with Jack Nicholson in his prime and not many people could do that.

Ralph Waite, two years before his successful run as John Walton in The Waltons, makes the most of his role as one of the straightest and most conservative of bumpkins in the whole movie. His conservative simpleton is meant to help contrast Nicholson's "lack of direction" and "rebellious" lifestyle so you don't get to see Ralph Waite own the screen, but he does make a boring character slightly more likeable. You couldn't ask for two different brothers.

Perhaps one of the more surprising performances in this movie is given by Helena Kallianotes. Hell, I'd never heard of her, either. But she plays a witty hitchhiker and her very brief time spent traveling with Nicholson and Black is memorable. I'm not too surprised to see that she also had a role in Easy Rider, albeit an uncredited one. She didn't stick around in the acting biz much, though. Seeing as she only has fourteen roles to her credit. 

However, Sally Struthers, more well-known for her role in All in the Family, serves no purpose in this film other than to have on-screen sex with Nicholson. Not quite sure why they chose Struthers for this, but I suppose this is just one of those "for historical purposes only" kind of roles for die-hard fans of hers. Not sure how many of those there are, but I'm sure there are a few. She doesn't really act or anything here.

I imagine that lots of folks either loved this film because of its rambling no-strings-attached approach or hated it for those same reasons. 

It spoke to me, though. Oddly enough, one of the scenes that spoke to me more than anything was the diner scene. I got a kick out of that. As someone who works in the fast food industry, I don't consider it to be ironic at all. If you can't get a customer what they want then you should get them what you can without being a bitch about it. 


  1. I haven't seen this in ages. I think I have it on dvd and am going to look for it and watch it again.

    I may be wrong about the movie but I think it is "About Schmidt" where there is an homage to the "Five Easy Pieces" diner scene.

    1. If you don't have Five Easy Pieces it's on Netflix, too.

      It's been a bit since I watched About Schmidt. I liked that movie when I saw it, but the scene where Kathy Bates strips and joins Jack Nicholson in the hot tub kind of hurt my eyes a bit. I think I remember that more than anything else in that movie.

  2. That was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen. I couldn't believe she did that.

  3. I just watched it again for the first time in a really long time. It's complex and multilayer and totally fascinating. The "moral of the story" certainly is elusive if there is one. You've got a guy who has worked his way down the ladder because he wasn't happy with the privileged life. But he doesn't seem so happy with the other life either. I guess I would just say that it is a pretty awesome character study of a person that doesn't know what the hell he wants (kind of like most humans). Kudos to the writer and director (and Jack) for making something so watchable out of subject matter that could easily be boring as hell. It's really an incredible flick. It's one of those that you can watch multiple times and get something different from it each time.

  4. Think I'll keep an eye on that collection, too.