Seeing Double: Fried Green Tomatoes / Boys on the Side

by Vincent Scarpa on September 5, 2010

in Columns,Seeing Double

Seeing Double is the Scene-Stealers series that celebrates the only thing better than watching one movie—watching two movies. We look for a more perfect cinematic union as we view and discuss a pair of movies chosen either for things they have in common or things they don’t. The films may be old or new, obscure or well known, celebrated or reviled. The only rules are that we must justify the pairing up front, and all titles have to be readily viewable at home, as determined by their availability to rent or stream through the most popular home video websites.

There’s so much to be said about the two films I’ve chosen for Seeing Double—1991′s “Fried Green Tomatoes” and 1995′s “Boys on the Side”—that I had trouble figuring out where to start. I wanted to do more than point out what was obvious: the similar themes, lesbian undertones, and Mary-Louise Parker dying in both. Because, having seen these films back-to-back numerous times, I know there’s more. But Seeing Double is so much rooted in the experience of simply watching the films—feeling the films—that rendering it is quite a task. I’ll do my best, but what’s better than my best is the suggestion to rent these movies and watch them back-to-back yourself. Where this article fails in capturing what both of these movies are, your own viewing experience will make up for.

Boys on the Side

I’ll start off by saying that this isn’t an easy movie to find. I had to search through hell and high water to find a copy, and even then it was through Netflix. It’s the kind of movie you’d expect, by now, to be in the discount bin at your local CVS or Walgreens, but it wasn’t. So, I’ll save you the trouble and tell you it’s available for instant play on Netflix, which has fast become my religion.

Another disclaimer about this film, and this one has to deal with more than just availability, is that it’s not a feel-good movie, even when it tries to be. What’s billed as a film about a cross-country trip with three women (Parker, Whoopi Goldberg, and Drew Barrymore), each falling apart in their own way, “Boys on the Side” is so much more than that. For me, this movie is about wanting and struggling. It’s about friendship, unity, and illness. It’s about how sad people seem to link up, for better or worse, to wade through the muddled madness.

It’s easy to pass this off as a chick flick, or to say it’s “Thelma and Louise and Another Friend,” but if you give the film a chance, you’ll be surprised at how much more there is to it. Yes, the film is female-heavy, despite an appearance from a young Matthew McConaughey, but that doesn’t mean all merit goes out the window. Each of the three women have a background that warrant films of their own, and “Boys on the Side” only benefits from having all three collide head-on because of the beauty in the overlap. The film does a fantastic job of portraying the ways in which friendship, not laughter, is the best medicine of all.

And yes, there’s the obvious stuff. Female-driven movie. Clear lesbian tones, surrounding Robin (Parker) and Jane (Goldberg). And quite sadly, Mary-Louise Parker doesn’t make it in the end in this one. (Sidenote: Why is she always dying?) But I think you’ll pick up on what I’ve mentioned and more—the stuff that can’t be verbalized—in watching the film yourself. You’ll find yourself becoming attached (in my case, severely) to these women, and invest yourself emotionally in their pasts, presents, and futures. And if you’re anything like me, during the final moments of the film, as Jane sings to Robin an a capella rendition of “You Got It”, you’ll be crying your eyes out. The film has all of these actresses at their best (even Drew Barrymore, who I find terribly annoying in real life), it’s a touching story, and has one of the most satisfying emotional narratives you’re bound to find.

Fried Green Tomatoes

On the contrary to “Boys On The Side”, “Fried Green Tomatoes” won’t be too difficult to find, though it’s worth mentioning that this too is on instant play on Netflix (I’m telling you, my new God). Made in 1991, “Fried Green Tomatoes” is based on the 1987 novel by Fannie Flagg, a pretty hasty adaptation. And for good reason, too: the two tales that “Fried Green Tomatoes” tell beg to be told on the screen.

Kathy Bates is Evelyn Couch (one of my favorite names in movies, ever), a more or less copacetic housewife, until she meets Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) at her mother-in-law’s nursing home. Through Tandy we get the story within the story: one that begins sixty years prior. Evelyn becomes invested, perhaps even obsessed, with Ms. Threadgoode’s stories, and it’s for the audience’s benefit. We get to know more about the other half of the film because the protagonist wants to know too, which I think is a hell of a cool device.

Ms. Threadgoode details the rise and fall of The Whistle Stop Cafe; of its patrons and owners, Idgie
(Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker). As Ms. Threadgoode starts her storytelling, the camera follows her back into the South during the 1920s. She details a narrative between Idgie and Ruth that doesn’t differ much from the narrative in “Boys On The Side”. It’s about bonding, it’s about struggle, and it’s about the power of  perseverance and friendship (and, if you pay close enough attention, real love).

And just as they work for the audience, the tales that Ms. Threadgoode spin inspire Evelyn Couch to finally speak up. Inspired by the bravery of Idgie and Ruth, Evelyn demands a better marriage, hell, a better life. Not unlike the three leads in “Boys On The Side,” Evelyn learns from others that validation only matters if it’s coming from you. And you’re the only one who can give it, once you finally realize that that’s the case, anyway.

And, again, the obvious stuff. It’s female-driven, a lesbian’s wet dream, and Mary-Louise Parker dies again. And the tendency might be to label this as a chick flick as well, but in the same way that “Boys On The Side” had more to offer, so does “Fried Green Tomatoes”. It’s a bit long, and I’ll admit that much, but the final scene of the film is one of the most poignant I’ve come across in cinematic history.

Worth A Double Feature?

Absolutely. Watch them with people with you love. Bring Kleenex, trust me. And Mary-Louise Parker is so damn good!

Vincent Scarpa

Vincent Scarpa is a graduate of Emerson College, and the recipient of the Norman Mailer Four-Year College Writing Award. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Baltimore Review, and plain china: Best Undergraduate Writing 2011.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jennlevo September 5, 2010 at 1:28 pm

love love love

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2 Vincent Scarpa September 6, 2010 at 9:06 pm

love love love you, jennlevo.

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