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FIVE EASY PIECES (1970)

Five Easy Pieces - CoverThe Criterion Collection’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of ‘Five Easy Pieces’. It was directed by Bob Rafelson; it starred Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Susan Anspach, and Lois Smith; and it lasts for 98-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with audio commentary narrated by Bob and Toby Rafelson, two documentaries about the BBS, a theatrical trailer, a featurette, as well as audio excerpts from the 1976 AFI interview with Bob. Please enjoy.


Criterion Collection: Five Easy Pieces


THE STORY:
Why do you do it, Robert (Jack Nicholson)? Why do you keep on treating me so badly? Is it because I’m nothing more than a lowly waitress who prefers to stay in and watch TV than go out and play bowling? Or is it because of something else? Something about the way I look, perhaps? Which is why you keep on cheating on me whenever my back is turned!

Hey! Don’t you try to deny it, Robert, as I know what you get up to when you're not working at the oil refinery! So please, for the love of God, try to remember that I’m still your girlfriend! Me, Rayette (Karen Black), and I'm more than willing to stay by your side during this time of need.

Well, your father is sick, extremely sick, and I’m sure you want to see him before it’s too late. But then again, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes click, slam, zoom, when we both jump into your car and pay your folks a visit. As a trip across town goes slightly astray - a family reunion sits down to pray - a secret love affair hits the hay - and at the end of the day, please remember, don’t delay yesterday for a forgotten today.




THE REVIEW:
In many ways, ‘Five Easy Pieces’ is a character study that focuses its attention on a confused man who doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life. Well, when the film begins, we’re introduced to a nice young couple who are living together in a rather rural part of America: With him, Robert, working as a rigger at an oil refinery, and her, Rayette, working as a waitress at a local diner. But after a while, we start to realize that Robert doesn’t like his current lifestyle because he discovers that Rayette is pregnant and he doesn’t want to settle down yet. In fact, he’s so disturbed by the whole idea of settling down, that he’s more than willing to destroy his relationship by sleeping with whoever comes his way, be it a young, impetuous girl, looking for a good time, or a rather erudite woman, who’s presently engaged to his brother. 

Five Easy Pieces - Poster
Or to be more specific about it, his estranged brother, Carl, who we don’t get to see until halfway through the movie, when their mutual sister, Partita, encourages Robert to see their father as he’s had a stroke and isn’t in the best of health. So, upon hearing this sad news, both he and Rayette drive across the country in order to get reacquainted with his family, including his brother's new fiancee, Catherine, wink-wink, while distancing himself from his current status quo. 

But can he do this? Can Robert manage to subdue his present by embracing his past? No. Not really. If anything, the opposite is true, as we eventually find out that he's embarrassed by most of his family because they’re pretentious, aloof, and all classically trained musicians who each specialize in playing either the piano or the violin. Robert and his sister, the piano, and his brother, the violin. 

So, as you can see, on a purely conceptual level, Robert seems to be the type of person who isn’t always good and isn’t always bad. On the one hand, he’s talented, he’s loyal, and he's charming and occasionally helpful. While on the other, he’s promiscuous, he’s tempestuous, and he doesn’t have a clear and decisive direction. Come to think of it, he’s so indecisive about who he is and what he stands for, both personally and professionally, that you can’t help but empathize with his plight the longer you get to know him.

Well, at first glance, I’d say Robert came across like a hick gigolo due to the shabby way he treated his girlfriend (by cheating on her and showing her no true affection). But then, as the film began to progress, he started to express some of the aforementioned positive character traits. Initially, when he tried to defend his work colleague while he was being attacked by the police, and then later on, when he went out of his way to help two hitchhikers who crashed their car and were left stranded by the side of the road.

Five Easy Pieces - Ralph Waite, Susan Anspach and Lois Smith
Now, when it comes down to the overall style of this film, and more or less, everything seen on screen nicely represented the two different sides of Robert’s psyche. The rural side, which was generally populated by brightly lit bowling alleys, shabby chic apartments, and muddy oil fields for as long as the eye could see. As well as the suburban side, which mainly consisted of a large family home that was decorated with conservatively fashioned furniture and miscellaneous ephemera (dated, even for the 1970s). Similarly, Robert’s acoustic world was also divided into two distinct halves, with his rural half complemented by the warm overtones of Tammy Wynette and her hit song, 'D-I-V-O-R-C-E', whereas his suburban half was complimented by pious piano playing that harked back to composers like Chopin, Mozart, and Bach.


Five Easy Pieces - Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, and Dupea Helena Kallianiotes


Five Easy Pieces - Foreign Film Poster
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because now seems like a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Columbia Pictures’ first released this $1.6 million production at the ‘New York Film Festival’ on the 11th of September, 1970, and eventually made $18.1 million at the Box Office. (2) Loosely translated, this project was entitled, ‘My Life is My Life’ in Argentina, ‘Sharp Patterns’ in Finland, and ‘Opposite Destinations’ in Portugal. (3) While we’re on the subject of this film’s title, you might like to know that it refers to a ‘book of piano lessons for beginners’. (4) The majority of this movie was shot on location throughout America and Canada. In America, you’ll see Seattle in Washington, Franklin Park in Illinois, as well as Eugene, Portland, and Florence in Oregon, and Bakersfield, Taft, and Kern County in California. Whereas in Canada, you’ll see four different locations situated in British Columbia, including Vancouver, Central Saanich, Mill Bay, and Chemainus. (5) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘He Rode The Fast Lane On The Road To Nowhere’. (6) During pre-production, Jack Nicholson wanted Lauren Hutton to play the part of Catherine, while Carole Eastman wanted Jeanne Moreau for the part instead. Eventually, Susan Anspach was hired for this role, even though she originally auditioned for the part of Rayette. (7) If you look very closely at that scene set at the recording studio, you’ll notice the director of this movie, Bob Rafelson, playing the man walking into the elevator.


Five Easy Pieces - Jack Nicholson and Lois Smith


In closing my review of ‘Five Easy Pieces’, I would now like to rank each key performance in order of preference. So, at the top of my list, I’m going to select the star of the show, Jack Nicholson, because he managed to portray the many different sides of Robert Eroica Dupea in a clear yet understated fashion, including his roguish side, his intellectual side, as well as his tender side, depending on the situation.

Five Easy Pieces - Jack Nicholson and Karen Black,
Up next, I think I'll pick three of Jack’s lovely female co-stars as they each enhanced his performance by emphasizing a different part of his character’s personality. After all, Karen Black played his girlfriend Rayette as if she were a naive yet glamorous wannabe, constantly yearning for attention (conflict); Lois Smith, on the other hand, portrayed his sister Partita as if she were a frumpy hausfrau, looking for love (family); and finally, Susan Anspach depicted his courteous lover, Catherine Van Oost, with a copious amount of elegance, charm, and intellect (charisma). All of which, allowed us to better comprehend the motives of certain characters and the outcomes of certain events, be they good, bad, or ugly.

And as for the rest of the cast? Well, on the whole, I’d say some of them did a pretty decent job with what they had at hand. Most notably, Billy Green Bush (who played Elton, the fiendish friend), Ralph Waite (who played Carl, the less charming brother), William Challee (who played Nicholas, the stone-faced father), and Helena Kallianiotes (who played Palm, the irritable hitchhiker). But then again, a supporting cast is expected to support, and in many ways, that’s the basic message behind this film. You have to be able to support yourself first before you can support anyone else. Otherwise, your lack of focus will steer others in the wrong direction. 

THE RATING: B+

FIVE EASY PIECES (1970) FIVE EASY PIECES (1970) Reviewed by David Andrews on November 16, 2020 Rating: 5

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