alice hyatt’s life has gone all wrong. her marriage has collapsed. her son, tommy, is a smartass. her direction in life is all screwed up. and, as if things couldn’t get worse, alice has a sparkle of ambition. the lucky part is that she has the gumption to make it all work out in the end.
ellen burstyn plays alice, one of those rare characters who come to symbolize a certain kind of struggle. alice shows how the single mother can use her wits and talent to push through ridiculous circumstance. she also shows us how we are all flawed in our desperate attempts to find happiness in those around us.
first there is ben (a very young looking harvey keitel), the peppy and ill-tempered guy who patrons the bar she finds work singing at. unfortunately, ben is a sleazebag who likes to break things. alice keeps on trucking.
next comes a small town diner where alice gets a job waitressing. two things come from this – a tv sitcom that spins off of the film, and the strong acting of kris kristofferson as david. david is a bit of a drunk, though he is more kindhearted than the other men in alice’s life. alice wants a piece of happiness, a calm life filled with caring people. this struggle keeps her in the midst of unhappiness.
it’s the dialogue that makes the characters so real. like this one from tommy while he’s unsuccessfully trying to milk a cow under the criticism of david:
“bullchrist! she’s got tits the size of cucumbers. what do you expect?”
martin scorsese’s 1974 film is a real triumph. i’m struggling to think of a film predating alice with a strong female protagonist who goes through real life shit. regardless, scorsese sure knew how to throw them out in the 70s. and the 80s. and gangs of new york was ok.
ellen burstyn manages to make alice believable, charming, funny, and endearing. it’s incredible that this is the same woman who, 26 years later, would play outrageously messed up sara goldfarb in requiem for a dream. it’s no wonder she won the best actress oscar for alice, but i’m still wondering how she was robbed for requiem.