Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean ★★★★

One of the best Altmans I’ve seen, and thankfully finally getting a Blu-Ray release next year from Olive Films. The stagey premise threatens pretty early to collapse the work as a whole, especially with the gimmick mirror, but once the film finds the rhythm between the past and the present, and you stuff all these actors (Sandy Dennis, Cher, Kathy Bates, and perhaps a career best from Karen Black) in the room and use Altman’s roaming camera as a guide, this is pretty much gangbusters. It’s certainly not an easy needle to thread, not only trying to ape Tennessee Williams style melodrama but also incorporate what must have been a pretty early example of LBGTQ narrative. Everything in this film is about false surfaces and allure, from plastic breasts to the replica of the Giant house to Dennis’s oft-repeated tale of her encounter with Dean. Altman’s roving camera becomes more and more intrusive as the film goes on, invading their privacy with his truly intense close-ups, and finally leaving the film in a quiet tracking shot of what’s left: an empty cheap dime store of the 1950s, remembering ghosts that have been forgotten. Eliminates the mind-bending elements of 3 Women (which I need to revisit) for a more cohesive and perhaps a unique characterization of female (and male) friendships nonetheless.

Worth reading: This extremely negative Texas Monthly review, only for the line “one character nearly drove me out of my moccasins.”