Fried Green Tomatoes: Anniversary Edition
June 14, 2006
Starring: Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary-Louise Parker, Mary Stuart Masterson, Cicely Tyson, Chris O’Donnell, Stan Shaw, Lois Smith, Gary Basaraba, Grace Zabriskie, Gailard Sartain,
Every decade has its chick flicks that define those years and feature a who’s who of up-and-coming actresses mixed with veterans. In the 1980s, it was Steel Magnolias (1989) and in the 1990s it was Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), a southern folktale based on the novel by Fannie Flagg (who also co-wrote the screenplay).
While visiting her ornery aunt at a nursing home, Evelyn Couch (Bates) meets an 82-year-old widow named Ninny Threadgoode (Tandy). They get to talking and Ninny ends up spinning a tale of two young girls, Idgie Threadgoode (Stuart Masterson) and Ruth Jamison (Parker) who became friends in between World War I and II.
Idgie was something of a holy terror (including punching a boy who makes fun of her) but is ultimately kept in check by her good-natured brother Buddy (a surprisingly good O’Donnell who is, sadly, only in the film briefly but makes a memorable impact) who shares a mutual crush with Ruth. Idgie grows up to become a beautiful girl, the female incarnation of Tom Sawyer but never gets over the tragic death of Buddy when she was a child.
Her mom asks Ruth to try and reach Idgie because they both had a love of Buddy in common. The two women couldn’t be more different personality-wise but this is what draws them together. Idgie is the brave, adventurous one while Ruth is more timid and reserved. Ruth does what is expected of her. She listens to her father; she takes care of sick people and marries a man because it is what is expected of her from society. Idgie does the exact opposite. She refuses to go to church and instead goes fishing; she drinks with the boys and is fiercely independent.
These two personality types, in turn, exist within Evelyn, fighting for possession as she tries to learn how to be her own person. The film cuts back and forth from the present as Evelyn, inspired by Ninny’s stories, begins to assert herself much to the chagrin of her indifferent lunkhead of a husband (Sartain) who doesn’t appreciate how kind and loving she is, to the past with the various adventures of Idgie and Ruth.
The chemistry between Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker is excellent and they play well off each other. They were a part of a generation of exciting young actresses who came into their own in the early 1990s, like Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lili Taylor and Parker Posey. Your heart really goes out Evelyn and Kathy Bates’ heartbreaking performance as a gentle soul trying to exist in an uncaring world that only makes you care about what happens to her that much more. Jessica Tandy is a delight as the perennial free spirit who teacher Bates’ character to come out of her shell with her evocative stories about Idgie and Ruth.
Fried Green Tomatoes is a beautiful shot film that really evokes the rich, lush setting of the Deep South. Director Jon Avnet also uses warm colours to create an inviting atmosphere that draws the audience in. There is real artistic integrity to the camerawork which gives the film a Classic Hollywood vibe. He creates a nostalgic ode to not just the golden moments from that period of time but also evoking the same kind of feelings from the year it came out when the United States began moving away from the Bush era to the more positive Clinton era and this is mirrored in the movie.
Fried Green Tomatoes is the perfect lazy Sunday summer afternoon movie that evokes simpler times. The film makes us appreciate taking the time out of our busy lives to stop and smell the roses as it were. The film espouses a simple yet important message of tolerance and compassion towards one another but not in a preachy way. It is a message that is certainly applicable today (maybe even more so) making Fried Green Tomatoes even more relevant.
There are a collection of “Deleted Scenes” that are really just little bits of added footage tagged on at the end of or in-between scenes. There is nothing too memorable here.
Also included, is an amusing collection of “Outtakes,” featuring flubs and blown lines.
“Moments of Discovery: The Making of Fried Green Tomatoes” is an engaging, endearing retrospective documentary that runs just over an hour. Avnet was given Flagg’s book and told to read it. He loved it and wanted to make it into a movie. Flagg talks about how she wrote it with the notion of wanting to return to simpler times when people were nicer. This doc mixes interviews done at the time of filming with a few newer ones that takes us through the entire process of making this movie. Good news for fans is that Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker contribute new interviews and warmly recall filming anecdotes, including working in the intense Georgian heat, how Masterson really handled all those bees and Parker’s run-in with some nasty leeches. This is a must-watch for any fan of this movie.
“Sipsey’s Recipes” include actual recipes for over 15 dishes that are taken from Flagg’s book and that allow you to recreate the Whistle Stop Café’s cuisine. This is a really nice touch.
“Jon Avnet’s Director’s Notes” includes script excerpts with specific directions he used as a guide when making the movie.
There are “Production Photographs” that include behind-the-scenes pics of the delicious food and also the movie crew at work.
“Poster Campaign” features various poster designs for the movie, including some really nice hand-drawn ones that are quite artistic in nature.
Finally, there is an audio commentary by director Jon Avnet. He chose the central image of the ghost train that Evelyn hears early on in the movie as a nod to all of the deserted, small-towns he came across during the travels in his life. He takes us through his filmmaking process switching back and forth between talking about the themes of the film and production anecdotes.