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Jonathan Demme directs this joyous relentlessly kitschy celebration of 50's America: opportunity, rock'n'roll, and the road. He follows three generations of women and the men they pick up, for a crime spree from California to the old family homestead in Arkansas. Written by
Concorde - New Horizons (with permission).
A band of beauty shop desperadoes cartoonishly plunder their way from California to Arkansas, to reclaim the old family farm.
Wow! No energy crisis here. Just plug in the nation's generator and it'll light up from Broadway to Sunset with Denver in between. The movie's a classic of editing, scripting and directing; at the same time, add drive-in Oscars to actresses Leachman and Sothern.
This is the hillbilly masterpiece Roger Corman was building toward with his series of backwoods desperadoes. Sure, much is silly, along with the usual cartoonish violence and enough car crashes to put on an extra shift in Detroit. But there's still enough subtext to make you care.
This is America of forgotten people, the country's poor rural whites, one step ahead of bill-collectors and two steps from the law. Check out the cross-country tour of 1950's kitsch the Burma Shave, the seedy motels, the lonely highway outpostsstill familiar to thousands of us. And whose great idea was Leachman's tiger sheath dress that about says it all.
But don't overlook the subtext that slyly mocks the conventions of the time. No Ozzie and Harriet here. It's three generations of mother-daughter, ousted from their cut-rate beauty salon, picking up new family members as they rob and roar alongan 80-year old Granny, a 50's greaser, a philandering cowboy. And don't forget sweet daughter Cheryl's already knocked up, but can't decide which boy to hook up with. But then maybe she doesn't have to and so much for 50's-style monogamy. Or consider hormonal old Granny who's still got eyes for the boys, plus young Snake who eyes her backno sir, no ageism here. Or Jim Bob's wealthy wife, sobbing for Jim Bob on TV, that is, when not entertaining the sheriff on the side and so much for the upper class.
Then there's the banker's moneyed class, the fugitive family's natural enemy. I love that big fancy wedding that suddenly explodes as the girls fulfill their 30-year debt of honor. Or when Sheba redesigns the banker's headstone with a barking pistol. No sir, it's sweat equity that earns a farmer his land and not the banker's money too bad the law's on the wrong side here and we're made to feel it.
Then, of course, there's the Lord that keeps getting invoked along with a whiskey bottle. But it's not the religion of the church. It's the Sweet Jesus of desperate folk clinging to one another in a hostile world and hoping things turn out in the end. And speaking of end, what an inspired one herethe family that works together stays together, even if they can't seem to get the rules right.
No indeed, snooty Hollywood never recognizes kitschy films like this. But it's got style, humor, and a penetrating subtext that makes you feel rather than merely observe. Too bad ace screenwriter Thom died soon after. He had a real knack for the material. But more importantly, knew how to combine with director Demme's electric style. The result, in my little book, is worth 20 of those lumbering prestige films of the time. You know, the kind with Richard and Elizabeth that usually got the publicity space. All that vitality makes Mama a great extension of the 40's B-movie. Plus, it's funny as heck. So check it out.
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