Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore


This is one of those movies, like The Age of Innocence and New York, New York, that Martin Scorcese did, far out of his normal comfort zone, just to show he could do it. There’s no mean streets here, no Mafia, no crazed taxi drivers. It’s a chick flick, pure and simple, and one of the best of that maligned genre.

Ellen Burstyn (in an Oscar-winning role) is married to a domineering lout, who soon gets himself killed in a car accident, which is probably the nicest thing he ever did for her. She and her young son hit the road headed for Monterrey, where she hopes to revive her career as a piano bar singer. They don’t get far before the money gives out. She gets a singing job and meets charming Harvey Keitel, who soon shows himself to be a very scary wife beater. Fleeing him, they wind up in Tucson, where she takes a job as a waitress in Mel’s Diner. She initially hates Flo, her co-worker, but they soon hit it off. She meets my old friend Kris Kristofferson and they fall in love. Though there are some rocks in the road, it all ends well. A simple story.

It works mostly because of Ellen Burstyn’s performance. Jodie Foster, twelve years old at the time, has a small but brilliant part. The main hindrance to enjoying the movie is her young son, brilliantly and teeth-grittingly played by Alfred Lutter, who had a brief career as a child actor. The kid is one of the worst brats I have ever seen in the movies. Just one of his offences against my sanity, his endless, pointless re-telling (badly) and “explaining” of a lousy joke whose punchline is “Shoot the dog!” made me want to smack him around some until he shut up!

(Here’s the shortest version of that old joke I found: A man walked into his back yard one morning and found a gorilla in a tree. He called a gorilla-removal service, and soon a serviceman arrived with a stick, a dog, a pair of handcuffs and a shotgun. “Now listen carefully,” he told the homeowner. “I’m going to climb the tree and poke the gorilla with the stick until he falls to the ground. The trained dog will then go right for his, uh, sensitive area, and when the gorilla instinctively crosses his hands in front to protect himself, you slap on the handcuffs.” “Got it”, the homeowner replied. “But what’s the shotgun for?” “If I fall out of the tree before the gorilla”, the man said, “shoot the dog.”)

I do not, generally, approve of hitting children. I do not approve, ever, of hitting them anywhere but on the butt with an open hand, and that very, very seldom. But there are times when it’s the only way to get the attention of a real brat, and this kid was asking for it all the way through to the end. When Kris finally did whack his bratty ass, I felt like standing up and cheering.