The Exorcist (1973), but female-driven narratives were still so rare in the male-centric '70s that Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore was given a limited release in urban markets to test its appeal (it played in Los Angles a full month before opening in San Francisco). Neither Martin Scorsese nor rock-star-turned-actor Kris Kristofferson had what you'd call marquee names at the time, so expectations for the film were modest, and advance publicity minimal.
|Ellen Burstyn as Alice Hyatt|
|Alfred Lutter as Tommy Hyatt|
|Somewhere Over the Rainbow...with a really foul mouth|
Mia Bendixson portrays 8-year-old Alice in the Wizard of Oz-inspired opening sequence
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Martin Scorsese speaks of having the foreknowledge of the studio expecting him to turn out a genre film—a romantic comedy with a happy ending—yet he and Burstyn turn in a film of such unexpected freshness, I still find myself dazzled by it. Its characters, settings, dialogue, and character-based humor felt so refreshingly personal, so original, and so surprising. Scorsese succeeds in creating a '70s revisionist take on the '40s woman's picture, something he endeavored (with considerably less success) with the '40s musical genre when he made New York, New York in 1977. Now there's a film that could have benefited from Ellen Burstyn's level-headed feminine perspective.
|I'd never seen an onscreen mother/son relationship like the one Alice and Tommy share|
The depth of Burstyn's performance has the effect of fulfilling what the premise of the film promises: an ordinary woman is revealed to be remarkable by sheer force of her humanity. Alice goes from being a someone's wife and mother to being the standout heroine of her own life. And it's the talent of Ellen Burstyn, giving an Academy Award-winning performance, that makes it happen.
When I told them what she'd actually said, their faces almost always registered bewilderment. Like me, not a single individual was familiar with the old saying (referring to someone who should be working but keeps disappearing), plus, I think most people's imaginations had conjured up something far funnier and vulgar, so finding out what was really said inevitably came as something of a letdown.
Scorsese, Burstyn, and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robert Getchell (one of the many writers involved in wresting Mommie Dearest to the screen) fashion an engagingly contemporary Alice in Wonderland liberation allegory out of Alice Hyatt’s automobile pilgrimage to, as one writer astutely put it, the Monterey of her mind. Whereas most road films tend to run out of steam somewhere around the midpoint, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore grows increasingly funnier and more emotionally substantial as it goes along. I love the opening scenes in Socorro, New Mexico; the hilarious moments on the road that delineate Alice's unique relationship with her son; and the scenes highlighting Alice's early employment efforts or the ones that show her navigating the choppy waters of dating. But my favorite section—where the film fully hits its comedic stride—are the latter scenes of the film that take place in Tucson, Arizona. Specifically those within Mel & Ruby's Diner.
|The depiction of the friendship that develops between the superficially dissimilar Alice and Flo is one of the best things in the film|
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
|That's 6-year-old Laura Dern (daughter of Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern) listening in on Alice and David's conversation|
a) From a movie buff’s perspective, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore’s ending feels like a perfect full circle for a film that begins with a title sequence (cursive lettering on satin) that references the tropes and clichés of the women’s film genre of the '40s. Happy endings were a big part of what many of those 1940's films were about, so thematically, it makes a lot of sense for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore to end with what could be described as an updated take on the standard Hollywood happy ending.