Five Easy Pieces review by Tom Blain

Nicholson's First Star

Five Easy Pieces is a brilliant little film that seems to have lost steam with current audiences but shoud not be forgotten. For whatever reason it is not as popular as other Nicholson films of the time. It doesnt have the cult following of Easy Rider, and or even Chinatown but it stands on its own and even above the other two films in some ways.

In the first part of the film, we explore the life of Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson). He is an average Joe, working an average Joe job in an oil field in California. In his spare time, he bowls with his friends, plays poker with his paycheck, complains about his job, and occasionally cheats on his girlfriend. His girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black) is a little Southern bimbo who is filled to the brim with blue collar personality traits. Tammy Wynette is her gospel as she often waits at home for an angry Bobby. Drowning in her self pity, she forgives Bobby everytime.

The second part explores the life Bobby ran from three years earlier. Back then he was "Robert" Eroica (named after the Beethoven Symphony No. 3) Dupea a trained classical pianist from a wealthy, cultured Washington family. His sister Tita was also a pianist and his brother Carl Fidelio (Beethoven once more) was a violinist. Bobby returns home to visit his father; who is now just a shell of a man after his stroke. His speech and much of his movement are diminished.

At home Bobby shys away from conversation. He looks around and studies his former surroundings but rarely participates. The only person he finds some sort of interest in is Catherine (Susan Anspach), his brother's fiance. In Susan he sees something passionate, intelligent, but moreover someone he wants to understand and appreciate. The two sides of his life come into greater conflict when his girlfriend Rayette (who he had been keeping away from his family) visits unannounced. More of Bobby's current life becomes unveilled to his well-to-due family. Everytime Rayette opens her mouth, Bobby looks on with contempt.

The movie's name is a bit mysterious and may offer up some sort of clues as to what Bobby is running from. Five Easy Pieces refers to five piano pieces, although the only mention is when Bobby plays "an easy piece" for his love interest Catherine. Bobby says he played it better when he was eight and felt no inner spirit while playing it. From these comments one can assume that this path of classical music was thrust upon him and he feels no passion towards it. With many years wasted down a path he doesn't enjoy, he ran away from home without contacting anyone for years (as to not disappoint his father). This new path he chose was easier; it took little mental work and was probably the simplest thing to get into at the time for someone that just knew how to play piano.

His brother and sister seem to be a pair of odd birds as well. His sister Tita, acts completely sheltered from the outside world, and compulsively sings (poorly) as she plays piano. Carl Fidelio is awkward and goofy. They sacraficed societal normalcy for musical apptitude and peaceful serenity. Personality-wise they couldnt be farther from the loud and adventurous Bobby. Running away was not only an escape from his musical background but an escape from their tight sanctuary. Bobby desired freedom from everything and tried to bury his past, (family, hobbies, piano, class, etc.) tried to start his life over completely.

Director Bob Rafelson achieved cinematic success with Five Easy Pieces that he was no longer able to produce. He worked with Nicholson two years earlier on the Monkees psychadelic movie, and two years later in The King of Marvin Gardens, eleven years later in the remake The Postman Always Rings Twice, and once more in 1996 with Blood and Wine. In Five Easy Pieces he creates many stirring moments (ie Nicholson appologizing to his mute father, dinner scene, final scene at the gas station) and wraps them up into a complex character driven movie that is not to be missed.




9 out of 10 Jackasses
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