Bottom Line: A reason to love Scorsese; it will “live” on as a classic.
“Shoot the dog! Shoot the dog!” –Alfred Lutter as Alice’s son
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Alfred Lutter, Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristoffen, Mia Bendixsen
Seriocomic road movie about Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn), a woman who has always dreamed of becoming a singer. (This is made clear in the opening WIZARD OF OZ-esque scene.) She is thirty-five years old, driven crazy by her obnoxious twelve-year-old son, and the only thing that is holding her life together is her husband, who she hates to begin with. This all changes when her husband dies in a car accident. Alice has lost the majority of her money, forcing her and her son to take on an interminable road trip. Not only is this a gateway for more stress, the trip provides Alice a job and man or two, and her son a girlfriend of sorts that is just as bad as he is–if not, worse.
Before I saw ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, I had seen four films directed by Martin Scorsese: SHINE A LIGHT, his 2008 documentary of a Rolling Stones concert; THE DEPARTED, one of his many crime flicks; THE AVIATOR, his biographical picture about multi-millionaire Howard Hughes; and HUGO, his charming family fantasy movie from just last year. Only one of them I had given less than a solid A (HUGO), so I was excited to see ALICE, the film many consider his best. It’s not his usual, dark, ultra-violent type of movie (and I’d guess it’s his only PG rated film until HUGO), but it’s a classic with no hesitation, and the best I’ve seen of him thus far.
Ellen Burstyn performs phenomenally in this film. When you first turn on the movie, you see an oddly colored scene of a girl happily walking around farmland, singing the song that plays through the hokey opening credits. Without a doubt, your thought will be, “What did I just rent??” or, “Is Martin Scorsese on drugs???” (Do not turn it off.) The scene spins in and shows Alice years later. The fashion in which Burstyn flaunts the change over the years for her character is mind-blowing. She makes the change seem not only sudden but drastic. Now we have an adult woman, not skipping to calm music, but sewing to Mott the Hoople. We learn this isn’t her music but her son’s. Can’t forget him, either. He is portrayed by Alfred Lutter, and it’s his performance–not the writing–that proves how awful of a child he is. The kid knocks over a waitress’s tray at a restaurant, swears at his mother’s boyfriends, and talks back in the most unfathomable ways.
ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE is just about as unusual as its own title. It’s a fantastic film, and it’s (in a way) a family drama, but there’s something extra added on to make it more likeable. We’ve had so many movies about family problems, too many for me to name. They’re all either pass or fail, with nothing in the middle. A “fail” would be Jim Carrey’s LIAR LIAR. A “pass” would be Robert Redford’s ORDINARY PEOPLE. For me, this passes just as much as ORDINARY PEOPLE, if not a tad more.