Fried Green Tomatoes

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Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried Green Tomatoes (poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jon Avnet
Produced by Jon Avnet
Norman Lear
Screenplay by Fannie Flagg
Carol Sobieski
Based on Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe 
by Fannie Flagg
Starring
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Geoffrey Simpson
Edited by Debra Neil-Fisher
Production
company
Act III Communications
Fried Green Tomatoes Productions
The Kerner Entertainment Company
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • December 27, 1991 (1991-12-27)
Running time
136 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $11 million[1]
Box office $119.4 million

Fried Green Tomatoes is a 1991 comedy-drama film based on the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. Directed by Jon Avnet and written by Flagg and Carol Sobieski, it stars Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Mary-Louise Parker. It tells the story of a Depression-era friendship between two women, Ruth and Idgie, and a 1980s friendship between Evelyn, a middle-aged housewife, and Ninny, an elderly woman who knew Ruth and Idgie. The centerpiece and parallel story concerns the murder of Ruth's abusive husband, Frank, and the accusations that follow. It received a generally positive reception from film critics and was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Plot[edit]

Evelyn Couch (Bates), a timid, unhappy housewife in her forties, meets elderly Ninny Threadgoode (Tandy) in an Anderson, Alabama nursing home. She, over several encounters with Evelyn, tells her the story of the now-abandoned town of Whistle Stop, and the people who lived there. The film's subplot concerns Evelyn's dissatisfaction with her marriage, her life, her growing confidence, and her developing friendship with Ninny. The narrative switches several times between Ninny's story, which is set between World War I and World War II, and Evelyn's life in 1980s Birmingham, Alabama.

Ninny's story begins with tomboy Idgie Threadgoode (Masterson), the youngest of the Threadgoode children, whom Ninny describes as her sister-in-law. Her close relationship with her charming older brother, Buddy (Chris O'Donnell), is cut short when he is hit by a train and killed. Devastated, she recedes from formal society for much of her childhood and adolescence until Buddy's former girlfriend, the straitlaced Ruth Jamison (Parker), intervenes at the request of the concerned Threadgoode family.

Idgie initially resists Ruth's attempts at friendship, but then gradually deep attachment develop between the two. Ruth leaves Whistle Stop to marry Frank Bennett (Searcy) and moves to Valdosta, Georgia. Idgie tries to forget her but later visits her house, to find her pregnant and subject to physical abuse from Frank. Against his wishes, and violent attempts to stop her, Ruth returns to Whistle Stop with Idgie, where her baby, whom she names Buddy, Jr., is born. Papa Threadgoode gives Idgie money to start a business so she can care for Ruth and Buddy, Jr. She and Ruth open the Whistle Stop Cafe, employing the family cook, Sipsey (Tyson), and her son, Big George (Shaw), who excel with a barbecue that becomes popular with their patrons and the clients.

Frank eventually returns to Whistle Stop, to kidnap Buddy, Jr., but his attempt is thwarted by an unseen assailant, and Frank is later reported missing. Once his truck appears at the bottom of a nearby drying lake without its owner, Idgie is immediately a suspect, as she had publicly threatened violence against Frank for beating his wife. Idgie is detained along with Big George for his murder by Grady Kilgore (Barsaraba), the local sheriff, who offers to release her and pin the crime solely on Big George; Idgie refuses to sacrifice him. During the subsequent trial, the local minister, Reverend Scroggins (Riehle), has no problem to lie, providing Idgie and Big George with sound alibi for the time of Frank's disappearance. Taking into account his reputation for getting drunk, the judge rules his death an accident – much to the attorney's disgrace – and dismisses the case. Idgie and Big George are cleared of all charges.

After the trial, Ruth is diagnosed with cancer, becomes very ill, and eventually dies. Following her death, the café closes. Over time, many Whistle Stop residents eventually move away, bringing Ninny to the end of her story, but not before the revelation of what really happened to Frank. Sipsey had killed him with a blow to the head with heavy cast frying pan while trying to prevent him from kidnapping baby Buddy, Jr. Idgie got Big George to barbecue Frank's body, which was later served to an investigator from Georgia searching for him.

Evelyn discovers that during Ninny's temporary stay at the nursing home, her house was condemned and torn down. Evelyn, having become friends with her, offers her a room in her house which Ninny accepts. As they walk away from the empty lot where Ninny's house used to be, they pass Ruth's grave, freshly adorned with a jar of honey, a honeycomb, and a card which reads "I will always love you. Idgie, the Bee Charmer", Ruth's old nickname for her revealing that Idgie is still alive.

Cast[edit]

Differences between the film and novel[edit]

Unlike the novel, the film does not make the lesbian romance between the two central characters explicit, instead leaving the relationship between Idgie and Ruth ambiguous.[2] The DVD contains an audio commentary in which the director acknowledges the relationship and points out that a scene between Idgie and Ruth engaging in a food fight was intended to be seen as symbolic love-making. At the time of the film's debut, it was criticized by reviewers and activists for what was seen as "glossing over" the lesbian relationship.[2][3] However, it won an award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for best feature film with lesbian content.[4] It shows examples of discrimination against African Americans, women, and the disabled, but the novel's examination of sexuality-based prejudice through a robust lesbian plot, is made more ambiguous.[5]

Though in the book, Idgie and Ninny are two separate characters, at the end of the film it's largely hinted that they are one and the same, although this runs counter to Ninny's earlier comment that "I was practically adopted by the Threadgoodes; I married her [Idgie's] brother, Theo".

Production[edit]

Conception and casting[edit]

Avnet first read Flagg's novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe in 1987.[6] He was introduced to it by producer Lisa Lindstrom, with whom he worked on television films Heat Wave and Breaking Point. Although he wanted her to give him a synopsis of the story, she insisted he read the book and like her, he loved it. He decided to turn the story into a film and pitched the idea to Norman Lear's company, Act III Communications, who were interested and gave Avnet a small budget for a screenwriter.[7] He hired Carol Sobieski who had written the screenplay for 1982's Annie. She wrote a draft for it as a musical, which Avnet was unhappy with.[7] Sobieski left the project and he hired Flagg, who had been surprised that anyone would want to turn the novel into a film, worked to develop the script. Although she had some screenwriting experience, she found the process of turning her own novel into a script a strange one. The job was made somewhat easier by the work done by Sobieski and Avnet in choosing which characters from the book were going to be featured, but she found it difficult and also left the project, after writing 70 pages of the screenplay. With no money left to hire another writer, Avnet took the script over himself and spent the next 2–3 years developing it. Flagg gave her blessing to the final draft.[7]

Avnet wrote the film with Jessica Tandy in mind; she expressed excitement about making the film.[7] He had worked with Kathy Bates and Chris O'Donnell on the 1990 film Men Don't Leave before offering them the roles of Evelyn Couch and Buddy Threadgoode respectively.[6] When Bates read the script she loved the characters and was particularly keen to work with Tandy.[6] Mary-Louise Parker was casting director David Rubin's first choice for the role of Ruth Jamison. She read for the part several times, initially unhappy with her own tests. When she read along with Mary Stuart Masterson, they – and the producers – agreed that they had good chemistry.

Setting[edit]

Inside the Whistle Stop Cafe, Juliette, Georgia.

Avnet hired Barbara Ling as production designer. Scouting for a location, she found Juliette, Georgia, a town that was, according to Avnet, nearly deserted.[7][8] The building chosen to be the Whistle Stop Café was formerly an antiques and hardware store. It was redesigned as a cafe, with a horseshoe shaped counter to allow for optimal camera angles.[7]

After the release of the film, Juliette saw an influx of tourists and, with Jon Avnet's encouragement, locals opened the Whistle Stop Café, recreated to mirror the film set.[9] Although "Whistle Stop Café" is now a registered trademark, other establishments have appeared using that name.[10] While writing the novel, Flagg based Whistle Stop on Irondale, Alabama, and the café on a real-life restaurant, the Irondale Café.[8] She was a frequent visitor there which was formerly owned by her great-aunt.[11]

The scene where Idgie goes to collect honey from a beehive for Ruth was originally intended to be performed by a stunt double. However, after the latter backed out at the last minute, Masterson volunteered to do it herself. The footage of her covered in a swarm of live bees is seen in the final version of the film.[6]

The steam locomotive used in the film is A&WP 290, then in use pulling steam excursions for the New Georgia Railroad.[citation needed]

Release[edit]

The film was given a limited release in the US on December 27, 1991, opening in five theaters.[12] It got a wide release four weeks later on January 24, 1992, in 673 theaters. It ran for 19 weeks in total, with its widest release having been 1,331 theaters.[12]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed a total of $82,418,501 in the United States alone, and took in $37,000,000 outside the US, bringing the total to $119,418,501 worldwide.[12] In its opening weekend it earned $105,317, and at its wide release opening weekend it earned $5,235,940, which was 6.4 percent of its total gross.[12] According to Box Office Mojo, it ranked at no. 11 for all films released in the US in 1991, and no. 5 for PG‑13 rated films released that year.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

The film was generally well received by critics. Film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gave it a "fresh" score of 73 percent based on 41 reviews.[13]

Critics enjoyed the narrative, but found it conventional and predictable.[3][14] The adaptation of the separate narrative of book to the screen was criticised by Time Out as "clumsy", Roger Ebert praised the performances, Janet Maslin praised the costume and production design and Emanuel Levy praised the cinematography and score.[3][15] The cast drew praise for their performances, particularly Masterson and Tandy.[3][15]

Awards and honors[edit]

The film was nominated at the 64th Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Jessica Tandy) and for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Fannie Flagg and Carol Sobieski).[16]

At the 46th British Academy Film Awards in 1992, Tandy was nominated for the Best Actress award, and Bates was nominated as Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Both also received Golden Globe nominations for their work, and the film got a Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) nomination.[16] At the 28th Guldbagge Awards in Sweden, it was nominated for the Best Foreign Film award.[17]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Soundtrack[edit]

Fried Green Tomatoes
Studio album by Various Artists
Released December 31, 1991
Genre Soundtrack
Length 39:24
Label MCA

Fried Green Tomatoes: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the soundtrack to the film, and featured a new song by Patti LaBelle. For the original score, composed by Thomas Newman, see Fried Green Tomatoes (score).

Track listing[edit]

  1. "I'll Remember You" (Grayson Hugh) – 5:08
  2. "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" (Paul Young) – 4:34
  3. "Cherish" (Hip Hop Version) (Jodeci) – 3:58
  4. "Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead" (Taylor Dayne) – 3:20
  5. "Rooster Blues" (Peter Wolf) – 3:15
  6. "Barbecue Bess" (Patti LaBelle) – 2:54
  7. "If I Can Help Somebody" (Aaron Hall) – 3:49
  8. "Cool Down Yonder" (Marion Williams) – 3:10
  9. "Cherish" (Movie Version) (Jodeci) – 2:29
  10. "Ghost Train" (Main Title) (Thomas Newman) – 3:11
  11. "Visiting Ruth" (Newman) – 1:46
  12. "A Charge To Keep I Have" (Newman) – 1:50

References[edit]

  1. ^ "'Green Tomatoes': Why a Little Film Bloomed: Movies: Film starts slowly at the box office but word of mouth, themes, strong cast ignite interest in the $11-million work". Los Angeles Times. February 10, 1992. Retrieved November 16, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Rockler, Naomi R. (March 22, 2001), "A Wall on the Lesbian Continuum: Polysemy and Fried Green Tomatoes", Women's Studies in Communication, 24, retrieved June 15, 2009 
  3. ^ a b c d Levy, Emanuel (January 6, 2006), Fried Green Tomatoes, Emanuel Levy, retrieved June 15, 2009 
  4. ^ Pryor, Kelli; Isaak, Sharon (February 28, 1992), "Women in Love", Entertainment Weekly, Time, retrieved February 9, 2010 
  5. ^ Vickers, Lu (June 1994), "Fried Green Tomatoes Excuse me, did we see the same movie?", Jump Cut, 39: 25–30, retrieved February 12, 2012 
  6. ^ a b c d Avnet, Jon (1998), Director's Commentary (DVD), Universal Studios 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Kenny, J. M. (director) (December 15, 1998), Moments of Discovery: The Making of Fried Green Tomatoes (DVD), Universal Studios Home Video, retrieved April 4, 2010 
  8. ^ a b Park, Irby (May 7, 2003), "Fannie Flagg Captivates Audience at City Book Event", The Chattanoogan, retrieved December 28, 2009 
  9. ^ "Little Town Where Movie was Made Finally Gets Café, Fried Tomatoes", Rome News-Tribune, April 13, 1992, retrieved December 28, 2009 
  10. ^ Zganjar, Leslie (November 1, 2002), "The Whistle Stop name is just too popular", Birmingham Business Journal, retrieved December 28, 2009 
  11. ^ Nolan, Michael (October 20, 2002), "Fried Green Tomatoes At The Irondale Cafe", American Profile, retrieved December 28, 2009 
  12. ^ a b c d Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), Box Office Mojo, retrieved April 5, 2008 
  13. ^ Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), Rotten Tomatoes, retrieved April 11, 2008 
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 10, 1992), "Fried Green Tomatoes", Chicago Sun-Times, Sun-Times Media Group, retrieved December 28, 2009 
  15. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (December 27, 1991), "Women Finding Strength In Women", The New York Times, The New York Times Company, retrieved December 28, 2009 
  16. ^ a b "Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) Awards", The New York Times, The New York Times Company, retrieved June 19, 2009 
  17. ^ "Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)". Swedish Film Institute. March 22, 2014. 
  18. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  19. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14. 

External links[edit]