[Film Review] Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Alice Doesn t Live Here Anymore poster

Title: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Year: 1974
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Robert Getchell
Cinematography: Kent L. Wakeford
Ellen Burstyn
Alfred Lutter III
Kris Kristofferson
Diane Ladd
Harvey Keitel
Lelia Goldoni
Billy Green Bush
Jodie Foster
Lane Bradbury
Vic Tayback
Valerie Curtin
Laura Dern
Rating: 7.8/10

Alice Doesn t Live Here Anymore 1974

Martin Scorsese’s fourth feature, a rare anomaly in his oeuvre where a female protagonist is at the helm of the entire story, since maestro can be addressed as anything but a woman’s director, but in fact, it is an Ellen Burstyn’s star-vehicle, and Scorsese was the young talent being picked by her personally for the project, it won Burstyn an Oscar, a hard-earned victory over Gena Rowlands in A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, in hindsight.

Burstyn plays our titular heroine, Alice Hyatt, a housewife in New Mexico, trapped in a fraught marriage with his offish husband Donald (Bush), who will soon bite the dust and once he is out of the picture, the newly-widowed Alice decides to pick up her old passion to be a lounge singer to sustain the family, and brings their 11-year-old son Tommy (Lutter), to her hometown Monterey, California, to restart her long-abandoned career and at the same time, earns some money en route.

The first stop is in Phoenix, Arizona, Alice is fortuitous enough to find a job in a local bar in the first day of her arrival, but an ill-fated romance with a testy nutcase Ben (Keitel), which halts suddenly in a violent episode, forces them to flee the town as soon as possible, here, Scorsese’s regular Keitel, chews the scenery with another love-it-or-hate-it explosion which can be categorically repulsive to watch.

The next stop is Tucson, where Alice accepts the job as a waitress in a local greasy spoon owned by Mel (Tayback), where she befriends a brusque fellow waitress Flo (Ladd, whose accessibly flamboyant turn wins her a first Oscar nomination), and encounters a divorced rancher David (Kristofferson), this time, it seems that she finds the right man (after a rambunctious interlude concerns their difference on her way of raising a child), but what about her original plan in her hometown, should she give it up or stick to her dream? Meanwhile Tommy strikes a friendship with a tomboy Audrey (Foster, a pleasant surprise to exhibit her rough edge).

Ellen Burstyn wondrously shows her chameleon-like facades to unpick Alice’s emotions and reactions in a full gamut, also nails the singing and piano-playing parts, her voice is unadorned, far from impressive, but pulses with a feeble quality which very much appropriate for Alice’s lot. Alice’s relationship with Tommy, is the most contentious takeaway of the film, it seems that their spontaneous dynamism which makes them interact more like friends than a mother and her son, creates many hearty moment with great comic response, but in the third act, when the overstatement of Tommy’s spoiled nature is tapped as the ultimate igniter of the fall-out between Alice and David, it is totally at the expense of Tommy’s characterization, although Alfred Lutter III’s naturalistic performance is gold, his Tommy turns out to be an utter brat, self-centered, petulant and annoying, so what is the point? One can only blame his upbringing, which must be Alice’s fault, she spoils her son, and almost ravages a perfect relationship, but on the other hand, David, under his charming and avuncular miens, he is an abandoner at the first place, that’s my major beef about the otherwise pretty scintillating script.

The film starts with a sound-stage gambit, a homage to the old-time big studio production in its heyday, and apart from Scorsese’s immaculate taste in music, his consistently fluid camera movement promises that he is more than just a hack-for-hire in the cutting-edge business, he is willing to go out on a limb if he is given the right material, and two years later, he would take audience’s breath away with TAXI DRIVER (1976).

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