Five Easy Pieces

Five Easy Pieces is a 1970 American drama film written by Carole Eastman (as Adrien Joyce) and Bob Rafelson, and directed by Rafelson. The film stars Jack Nicholson, with Karen Black, Susan Anspach, Ralph Waite, and Sally Struthers in supporting roles.

Five Easy Pieces
Five easy pieces.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBob Rafelson
Produced by
  • Bob Rafelson
  • Richard Wechsler
Screenplay byAdrien Joyce
Story by
  • Bob Rafelson
  • Adrien Joyce
Starring
CinematographyLászló Kovács
Edited by
  • Christopher Holmes
  • Gerald Shepard
Production
company
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
September 12, 1970
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1.6 million
Box office$18.1 million[1]

The film tells the story of surly oil rig worker Bobby Dupea, whose rootless blue-collar existence belies his privileged youth as a piano prodigy. When Bobby learns that his father is dying, he goes home to see him, taking along his waitress girlfriend.

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and five Golden Globe Awards, and, in 2000, was selected to be preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry.

PlotEdit

Bobby Dupea works in an oil field in Kern County, California, with his friend Elton, who has a wife and a baby son. Bobby spends most of his time with his waitress girlfriend Rayette, who has dreams of singing country music, or in the company of Elton, with whom he bowls, gets drunk, and has sex with other women. Bobby has not told Elton that he is a former classical pianist who comes from an upper-class family of musicians.

Rayette gets pregnant and Elton is arrested on an old warrant for having robbed a gas station. Bobby quits his job and goes to Los Angeles, where his sister Partita, also a pianist, is making a recording. Partita tells him that their father, from whom Bobby is estranged, has suffered two strokes. She urges Bobby to return to the family home in Washington.

Rayette threatens to kill herself if Bobby leaves her, so he reluctantly asks her along. Driving north, they pick up two stranded gay women headed for Alaska, Terry and Palm. The latter launches into a memorable backseat monologue, about environmental "filth" and "crap" (consumerism). The four are thrown out of a restaurant after Bobby gets into a sarcastic argument with an obstinate waitress who refuses to accommodate his meal order because toast is not on its menu.

Embarrassed by Rayette's lack of polish, Bobby registers her in a motel before proceeding to the family home on an island in Puget Sound. He finds Partita giving their father a haircut, but the old man seems completely oblivious to him. At dinner, Bobby meets Catherine Van Oost, a young pianist engaged to his amiable brother Carl, a violinist. Despite personality differences, Catherine and Bobby are immediately attracted to each other and they later have sex in her room.

Rayette runs out of money at the motel and comes to the Dupea estate unannounced. Her presence creates an awkward situation, but when pompous family friend Samia ridicules her, Bobby comes to her defense. Storming from the room in search of Catherine, he discovers his father's male nurse giving Partita a massage. Now more agitated, he picks a fight with the very strong nurse, who knocks him to the floor.

Bobby tries to persuade Catherine to go away with him, but she declines, telling him she believes he does not love himself, or anything at all. After trying to talk to his unresponsive father, Bobby leaves with Rayette, who makes a playful sexual advance that he angrily rejects. Shortly into the trip, Rayette goes into a diner for coffee while stopped for gas, he gives her his wallet and abandons her, hitching a ride on a truck headed north.

CastEdit

MusicEdit

The opening credits list the five classical piano pieces played in the film and referenced in the title. Pearl Kaufman is credited as the pianist.

Also listed are four songs sung by Tammy Wynette: "Stand by Your Man", "D-I-V-O-R-C-E", "Don't Touch Me", and "When There's a Fire in Your Heart".

ReceptionEdit

Box officeEdit

According to Variety, the film earned $1.2 million in North America in 1970.[2] By 1976 the film had earned $8.9 million in North America.[3]

Critical responseEdit

The film opened to positive reviews. It holds an 87% "Certified Fresh" rating on online review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 45 reviews, with an average rating of 8.4/10. The critics' consensus states: "An important touchstone of the New Hollywood era, Five Easy Pieces is a haunting portrait of alienation that features one of Jack Nicholson's greatest performances."[4]

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four, describing it as “one of the best American films”, one that “becomes a masterpiece of heartbreaking intensity” as it develops its lead character’s arc. Ebert called Bobby Dupea “one of the most unforgettable characters in American movies.“[5] Ebert named the film the best of 1970, and later added it to his "Great Movies" series.[6]

John Simon criticized Five Easy Pieces for its pretentiousness and oversimplification but said if anything saved the film from triviality, it was the performances, especially those of Karen Black, Lois Smith, and Billy Green Bush.[7]

Awards and nominationsEdit

The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jack Nicholson), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Karen Black). Nicholson lost to George C. Scott, and was nominated several more times before winning for the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

List of awards and nominations received by Five Easy Pieces
Award Category Nominee Result
43rd Academy Awards Best Picture Bob Rafelson and Richard Wechsler Nominated
Best Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Karen Black Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Adrien Joyce and Bob Rafelson Nominated
28th Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture - Drama Bob Rafelson and Richard Wechsler Nominated
Best Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Director Bob Rafelson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Karen Black Won (Tied with Maureen Stapleton for Airport)
Best Screenplay Adrien Joyce and Bob Rafelson Nominated

Home mediaEdit

On November 16, 1999, Columbia TriStar Home Video released the film on two-sided DVD-Video, featuring both fullscreen (4:3) and widescreen formats.[8]

Grover Crisp of Sony Pictures conducted a 4K restoration of the film, and it was screening theatrically in DCP by 2012.[9][10]

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection in November 2010 as part of the box set America Lost and Found: The BBS Story. It includes audio commentary featuring director Bob Rafelson and interior designer Toby Rafelson (originally recorded for a Criterion laserdisc); Soul Searching in "Five Easy Pieces", a 2009 video piece with Rafelson; BBStory, a 2009 documentary about the BBS era, with Rafelson, actors Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, and Ellen Burstyn, and directors Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom, among others; and audio excerpts from a 1976 AFI interview with Rafelson.[11]

On June 30, 2015, Five Easy Pieces was released as a stand-alone DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection.[12]

Chicken salad sandwich sceneEdit

A famous scene from the film takes place in a roadside restaurant where Bobby tries to get a waitress to bring him a side order of toast with his breakfast. The waitress refuses, stating that toast is not offered as a side item, despite the diner's offering a chicken salad sandwich on toast.

Bobby appeals to both logic and common sense, but the waitress adamantly refuses to break with the restaurant's policy of only giving customers what is printed in the menu. Ultimately, Bobby orders both his breakfast and the chicken salad sandwich on toast, telling the waitress to bring the sandwich to him without mayonnaise, butter, lettuce, or chicken, culminating in Bobby's responding to the waitress' incredulity at his order to "hold the chicken" with "I want you to hold it between your knees!" The waitress then indignantly orders them to leave, and Nicholson knocks the glasses of water off the table with a sweep of his arm.[13][14]

While much of the film was shot on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, this scene was at a Denny's along Interstate 5 near Eugene, Oregon.[13][14]

Thirty years later, Nicholson performed a scene in the movie About Schmidt that drew from this scene; it was cut from the film but is available as a Deleted Scene in the DVD release. Nicholson's character in About Schmidt, an emotionally downtrodden retiree, in contrast, humbly accepts the waitress's "no substitutions" rule.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Five Easy Pieces, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
  2. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, January 6, 1971, p. 11
  3. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, January 7, 1976, p. 44
  4. ^ "Five Easy Pieces". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
  5. ^ Roger Ebert. "Five Easy Pieces". Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  6. ^ Roger Ebert, Five Easy Pieces Movie Review March 16, 2003
  7. ^ Simon, John (1982). Reverse Angle. Crown Publishers Inc. p. 22.
  8. ^ "Five Easy Pieces and the Loss of Sexual Innocence Come to DVD". September 1999 Headlines. TheCinemaLaser.com. September 27, 1999. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
  9. ^ "Five Easy Pieces". Park Circus. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  10. ^ "Leading repertory cinema Film Forum to showcase Digital Cinema Packages". Film Journal International. February 10, 2012. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  11. ^ "Five Easy Pieces". The Criterion Collection.
  12. ^ Gary Tooze. "HD-Sensei: Five Easy Pieces [Blu-ray]". DVDBeaver.
  13. ^ a b Hawthorn, Tom (February 22, 2011). "Taking a bite out Nicholson's 'hold the chicken' legend". The Globe and Mail. Canada. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  14. ^ a b "Hold the Chicken - Five Easy Pieces movie clip (1970)". YouTube. Retrieved August 29, 2017.

External linksEdit