February 6, 2012

Queer Review: Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

Fried Green Tomatoes
Director: Jon Avnet
Writers: Fannie Flagg and Carol Sobieski. Based upon the novel Fried Green Tomatoes At the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg.
Cast: Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Jessica Tandy, Cicely Tyson, Chris O'Donnell, Stan Shaw, Gailard Sartain

At times heartwrenching and nostalgic, Fried Green Tomatoes is a good movie that could have been great had it not made the unfortunate decision to straighten out the lesbian relationship between it's lead characters. In other words, this film represents more evidence that Hollywood is not the liberal bastion that so many proclaim it to be.

A housewife struggling with a suffocating marriage, Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates), meets and befriends Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy), a nursing home resident with a fascinating past. Ninny tells Evelyn the stories of her sister Idgie Threadgoode, a butch woman who was accused of murdering Frank Bennett (Nick Searcy), who was her partner Ruth Jamisons' (Mary-Louise Parker) former husband. Eventually Ninnys' stories help Evelyn to develop the self confidence needed to improve her own life.

The Queering
Fried Green Tomatoes walks a very thin and frustrating line. On one hand, it has perhaps the strongest lesbian subtext of any film out there. The story of Idgie and Ruth Jamison is replete with instances that make it very clear that these woman love each other far more than is normal for most friends. On the other hand, the more explicit content from Flaggs' novel was eviscerated and this is where the source of the irritation lies. There is nothing in the film that makes it clear that Idgie and Ruths' relationship goes beyond the platonic.

Had Fried Green Tomatoes come into existence without being based on previously established material, I would probably be much more willing to sing it's praises. As it is, Fried Green Tomatoes represents yet another example of Hollywooeds' hell bent crusade to straighten out any character it can get it's grubby little hands on.

Overall, the film also features some particularly fine acting and writing and manages to over up an emotionally engaging story. The four leads (Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Jessica Tandy) all offer up some of the best work of their careers. Considering the number of Oscar nominations amoung them, that is saying something. There are also many scenes are capable of moving even the most stoic amongst us to either tears or laughter. Too bad all of this talent and effort is wasted on a film that could have been so much more.

Under most circumstances, I would probably give Fried Green Tomatoes 3.5 pink triangles. Thanks to the filmmakers decision to refusal to do the right thing and to just say no to the Hollywood straightening out addiction, I cannot in good conscience rate their film so highly.

While a tasty enough menu choice in its own right, Fried Green Tomatoes serves up little more than the cinematic version of an appetiser and will otherwise leave one hungry for more wholesome and affirming queer productions.

The Rating


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1 comment:

  1. Full disclosure: This is one of my favorite movies of all time.

    I agree that Idgie's sapphic inclinations are a lot more blatant in the book, but even so, I never interpreted their relationship as being sexual in either the book or the movie. While they're devoted to each other on a spiritual level, any romance/sexual attraction seems decidedly one-sided. It seems to me that Idgie was probably in love with Ruth but refrained from initiating (or trying to initiate) a sexual relationship because she figured/feared that Ruth wouldn't be receptive to it--probably a safe bet considering Ruth's strict Christian upbringing and negative prior experience with sex. Therefore, I doubt that Ruth ever had any notion of Idgie's true feelings for her.

    Just my interpretation; take it for whatever it's worth.


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