If the story of a single mom working as a waitress at Mel’s Diner in Arizona sounds familiar, that’s because 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore inspired the TV series Alice. However, the movie is significant for more than inspiring a sitcom. Ellen Burstyn made one of the best decisions of her career when she decided her next project after The Exorcist would be a small, gritty dramedy about a widow who must find a job and raise a son while pursuing her dream of becoming a singer. She approached a young director named
Martin Scorsese, and it turned out to be a good move for him, too. The film proved a big hit and won Burstyn an Academy Award, but not without some controversy over whether this woman-centered drama was sufficiently feminist. That won’t seem an issue today, when portraits of working-class women are all too rare in films. Diane Ladd scored a nomination for her supporting role as Flo, the sassy waitress, and you can spot her daughter Laura Dern as a little girl eating ice cream. Jodie Foster’s tomboy role led straight to Scorcese casting her in 1976’s Taxi Driver. Kris Kristofferson plays Alice’s rugged boyfriend, while Harvey Keitel makes a scary cameo. As the gruff Mel, Vic Tayback is the only actor who reprised his role on TV. In short, it’s a festival of fine actors in a finely tuned snapshot of American Southwestern highway atmosphere of the mid-1970s with a soundtrack of radio hits peppered with Burstyn’s renditions of classics. The McNay revives the film as part of its Get Reel summer series celebrating American women in 1970s cinema.
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