Watched Mar 29, 2012
Mitchell Beaupre’s review:
I don't think my disdain for Martin Scorsese is much of a secret for anyone who knows my taste in film, so it came as a welcome surprise when I found myself being moved and impressed by his 1974 film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Telling the story of a recently widowed woman (Ellen Burstyn) who takes her son on the road, this was a touching study of a woman struggling to find herself in a time when many women determined their worth based on the man who was at their side. In a lot of ways it takes an interesting look at the era in which it was made, but even today it stands strong as a look into this woman being stripped bare of the things she thought were important and being forced to find out what really matters to her.
She finds a few romantic partners throughout the film and it starts to get an "all men are evil" theme going on which I was getting worried about, but Robert Getchell's script ends up coming back around full circle to an ending (that was created by actor Kris Kristofferson, who plays one of her lovers, the day before they shot it) that was touching and spoke to the journey this character was brought down. There's a Wizard of Oz metaphor that bookends her evolution, which I found touching without being poured on too much.
Scorsese, known for his gritty approach, was surprisingly adept at bringing this woman's story to the screen. This is a film that could have easily gone down the saccharine, cheesy Lifetime route if it was handled improperly by it's director, but instead Scorsese is able to make it feel shockingly genuine all the way through. There are moments that are incredibly uncomfortable, such as Burstyn making her way around town desperate to find a job to support her and her son, along with ones that are genuinely terrifying, like when Harvey Keitel's character punches through a glass window in order to break into her hotel room in a brutal display of male aggression.
There's a shift in this character that occurs over the course of the film, slowly developing from a woman who lets men control her into a woman who isn't afraid to stand up for herself and her son, that is portrayed brilliantly by Burstyn. She won an Oscar for her role and it was incredibly well-deserved, along with the fellow nomination that came to Diane Ladd, who steals all of her scenes as a waitress at a diner where Burstyn's character eventually begins to work at. I think it's the mother/son dynamic that made the film work the most for me though, as I found a lot to personally connect to in it.
As an early child of divorce, I spent a lot of time growing up with just my mother and myself, and the relationship between them in this film felt so true in regards to my own experience. The way that the two would drive each other mad one second, but the next they would come back together and be laughing or supporting one another. I felt a deep connection there that touched me a lot. Ellen Burstyn's character here reminded me a lot my own mother, and watching her evolve on this path to finding herself meant quite a bit to me. Solid work by everyone involved here.