Diane Ladd in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) - Supporting Actress Sundays (Wednesday Edition)

Over the last fifteen days, StinkyLulu has been a travelin' fool -- setting foot in California, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. And yet, amidst all that southwestern sidewinding, somehow lil StinkyLu skipped over Arizona, the setting for much of this week's much delayed Supporting Actress Sunday film and all of the performance by...

...Diane Ladd in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974).
approximately 15 minutes and 16 seconds on-screen
8 scenes
roughly 13% of film's total screen time

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is a movie so embedded in its era that, screening it today, it emerges as something of a shocker. Made for an estimated $85,000, Best Actress winner Ellen Burstyn -- in a surprisingly prickly and unsympathetic performance -- plays Alice, a woman who (upon her husband's death in a freak accident) sets off from New Mexico to remake her own life on her own terms in California. Circumstances conspire to strand Alice halfway to Monterey in a dusty Arizona town called "Tucson" with only a little money, a beat-up car, and an incorrigibly precocious chatterbox of a son (Alfred Lutter, in an uncommonly annoying & thereby curiously realistic performance). It's a dusty trudge of a movie, mapped not by movement but by the idiosyncratic relationships of its characters, all of which culminates in a romantic fantasy ending that (like the movie) is at once utterly radical and utterly conventional. The movie's boldest stroke of genius situates Kris Kristofferson as the romantic lead (a kind of "Cowboy McSwoony") -- a casting choice & character concept that is soooooo 1974 -- and it's Kristofferson's improvised line -- "I'll take you to Monterey" -- which became the "You-Had-Me-At-Hello" or "I-Wish-I-Knew-How-To-Quit-You" for a generation. And though Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is a road movie that doesn't get very far, it gets just far enough to introduce the world to a wisecracking, vaguely slutty waitress with a twang as big as Texas, Flo -- played by Diane Ladd in her first Oscar nommed performance.

The first time lil Stinky screened Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore about 25 years ago, Ladd's Flo seemed a little scary, all sweat and harsh talk, with little of the "Kiss My Grits"-yness that StinkyLulu so loved about that "other Flo". This time through, however, StinkyLulu was simply wowed by Diane Ladd's blowsy yet precise, understated, and palpably vulnerable performance. Ladd's Flo is an oft-kicked pup who only seems like a big happyappy dawg; she reveals herself not so much in her patter, her speech, but more so in her glances. As she's yakking, grinning and winking, Ladd's Flo is also always warily surveying the world and its inhabitants (especially Alice), as if she's assessing how much hurt they might do her. Even when she seems to let her guard down, as in the film's singularly glorious sunbathing scene (click on the image above and play the clip through), Ladd's Flo emerges as a world weary, worldly wise woman who only seems like a party girl with too much air in her hair.

What's more -- when these two women finally find their way to being friends (click on image at left for clip), Ladd's performance finally provides the film a necessarily real emotional anchor. See, Burstyn's Alice still cries out in pain when life gives her a swift kick. And Ladd's Flo notices this with a kind of awe, swooping in to care for her wounded friend even as she marvels at the emotions bubbling forth. And Ladd's performance makes it clear: as much as Flo professes to be jealous of Alice's looks, talent and tits, it's Alice's open-heartedness that Flo envies most. In Alice, Ladd's Flo sees the possibility of a new beginning, a more satisfying way of being in the world, both for Alice and for her herself. It's this quiet tenderness, this glimmer of emotional hope, in Ladd's Flo that hooks Lulu's heart. Which is why Lulu didn't sucker in for the goopy romance of the film's next-to-last scene...UNTIL Ladd's Flo bursts into tears (her first and only in this soaked-with-women's-tears film) as she relieves Burstyn's Alice of her serving tray. Indeed, as Ladd's Flo got all gloopy with the romantic redemption of it all, so too did StinkyLu.

Dagnabbit. Carefully cultivated cynicism foiled again. Those actresses at the edges... They get Lulu every time.

• • • • •

See you at this Sunday's
Supporting Actress
Smackdown for 1974!


criticlasm said...

Just having read Ellen Burstyn's book, it's interesting to hear about this. It's not so long ago, but it does seem like a completely different time for women. Burstyn found the script, hired Scorcese, and had casting approval, but she didn't ask for EP credit, and never made money of the TV series, like everyone else did. And the Kristofferson line at the end was improv-ed, as she wanted the character to leave, but the studio wouldn't make the film without the happy ending. He came up with the compromise, and the rest is history....

StinkyLulu said...

As LaBurstyn tells it in the dvd's "making of" featurette, during rehearsals, Kristofferson came up with the idea of the line (and the follow-up where he says he'd leave his ranch to be with her and support what she wanted to do) and it just flattened her emotionally. She says they all knew that it was the line but she had to be convinced (by Scorsese) to do it in front of the whole diner, the theatricality of which he thought the studios would appreciate.

Interestingly, the film did not start as a romance but became one after its release. And its marketing seems to have morphed to reflect that...

Raybee said...

This is going to be one of those years in which all the nominees only have about 10-15 minutes or so of screentime. The only one I'm unsure of right now is Cortese, because I know Shire has very little screentime because I just saw The Godfather Part II again not that long ago.

I'm still perplexed as to why everyone voted for this year as the next year since its supporting actress lineup isn't very good.


amazing work by miss ladd...both this, and even her very brief perf. in CHINATOWN should have won her the oscar that yr 4 cumulative work achieved...very different roles in both...ingrid bergman's win was a joke!!