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Uneven mix of comedy and drama in late 60's time capsule.
misterjones15 October 2002
I had all but forgotten about the film of "Alice's Restaurant", which was inspired by (as opposed to based on) Arlo Guthrie's classic and comic song of the same name. Viewing it again on DVD made for a curious experience.

Midway through the film, director Arthur Penn (fresh off of "Bonnie and Clyde", I believe) literally shoots the events on which the song is based, and they are if anything even more amusing on screen than on record. However, anyone expecting the film itself to reflect this tone overall is in for a surprise.

By the time Arlo (playing himself) has his litter-inspired run-in with the draft board (which is, again, hilarious) we have come to know him as one of a commune-like group of people in Stockbridge which is more or less centered around Alice and Ray. The two live unconventionally with their friends in an unused Church. Alice seeks to add some stability to her life by opening a restaurant, which she does successfully with the help of friend Arlo's jingle. She and Arlo are the only members of their group who look beyond the aimless lifestyle of the members of their commune, who are content to meander through life riding motorcycles and getting stoned. We see Alice affected by the drug-inspired struggle and death of addict Shelley and Arlo affected by the long illness and eventual death of his father, Woody Guthrie. Perhaps their emotional connections to their lost loved ones are what clue them in to the shallowness of the lives around them. But if Arlo has his music to move on to, Alice is fairly glued to her life with the stoned-out Ray, their friends and her restaurant. It is with great sadness indeed that she watches Arlo ride off to resume his life on the road.

The point made about the trappings of the Hippie lifestyle being so unfulfilling are well ahead of their time when juxtaposed with other movies of the era and are actually quite haunting. The problem is that they make the wonderful recapping of the events surrounding Arlo's writing of the song seem out of place. This shift in tone is never quite reconciled by director Penn, rendering the film more of a curiosity than a success.

In addition to the now-fabled Thanksgiving sequence, highlights include James Broderick's lively performance as Ray, Pat Quinn's understated one as Alice and Guthrie's ever present charm and humor. It is also a wonderful bonus to see Arlo perform his father's "Pastures of Plenty" and "Car Song" with the wonderful Pete Seeger. (That's folk music producer Harold Leventhal as Woody's manager.) The film itself is ultimately as ramshackle as the group whose story it tells, but if the era means anything to you you will find it worth watching.
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9/10
One groovy flick
j-knutsson18 August 2005
This excellent film was written by my late screen writing teacher Venable Herndon, but I saw it and fell in love with it long before I took his class.

It manages to be both good humored and effortlessly profound at the same time. The recruitment scenes are hysterically funny. I miss movies with this laid-back quality. A lot of people are adverse to this type of loose narrative structure, but since almost every flick and TV show has such a rigid structure why can't the rest of us have a couple of films to ourselves.

The final shot of Alice's Restaurant with all its beautiful ambiguity has affected me more than the final shot of the "Searchers" every time I've seen it. It manages to celebrate something and take it with a grain of salt at the same time. Hurrah for the director of photography!

A beautiful trip all round.
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End of an era.
jt199914 July 2003
As most students of 1960s filmmaking are aware, "Alice's Restaurant" was director Arthur Penn's unsuccessful follow-up to "Bonnie and Clyde." It was based on -- or rather inspired by -- a good idea: Arlo Guthrie's famous autobiographical song, which told the humorous and ironic tale of two run-ins with the "establishment," as we used to say, during a Thanksgiving in Stockbridge, Mass., and a subsequent draft board examination in New York City.

Thirty-three long years later, seeing this cultural artifact from the late '60s is less like watching a story unfold than stepping into a time machine. The good, bad and tragic aspects of that turbulent era are all represented here, and the past -- as observed from our tainted and narcissistic age of SUVs, AIDS and the Internet -- seems positively innocent. And -- with a few obvious exceptions -- idyllic.

The 1960s may have been a tumultuous era, but those years embodied one crucial concept sorely missing from today's society: youthful idealism. Way back when -- before a six-figure salary became the college student's holy grail, when saving the world was more important than earning a law degree -- young people were actually passionate -- about freedom, about peace, about the long- term prospects for humanity. If that passion has not completely vanished, it has certainly been redirected -- and not, in my view, toward a positive or productive end.

Whether Penn's film works or not as a cinematic adaptation of Guthrie's song, whether it successfully mixes deadpan humor (hippies vs. bureaucratic clods) with tragedy (the dark side of drug use) seems almost irrelevant now. The movie succeeds in capturing a remarkable moment in time, a short period when the future may have been uncertain, but there was still a brilliant ray of sunshine at the end of the tunnel -- and a youthful force propelling us toward it.

The hippie movement may have been naive, but it was a movement nonetheless, and a positive form of rebellion. As seen in the film, young people often used the word "peace" instead of "goodbye" -- not just as a pleasant sentiment at the end of a conversation, but as a serious reminder of what was important -- that nothing was more vital than global, harmonious accord, to "live as one." That spirit may have died with John Lennon; it may have left this Earth with Jerry Garcia. In any case, it's pretty much gone now, and already -- except, perhaps, within a few small, nostalgic circles -- nearly forgotten.

Today, the concepts of "peace" and "love" seem hopelessly quaint. The era of Flower Power has long since passed, and most young people would readily agree that All You Need is Cash -- the majority of them knowing infinitely more about money markets than peaceful coexistence. Teenagers who once joined together to enjoy music, freedom and a sense of community (Woodstock) have been replaced by a disenfranchised generation who angrily rape, steal and burn (Woodstock '99). Somewhere along the line, the hopeful enthusiasm of folk music and rock'n'roll gave way to the fury of punk, rap and hip-hop. Freeform artistic expression (Prog-Rock, Pop Art, tie-died clothes, experimental filmmaking) was discarded in favor of nihilism and self-mutilation (Industrial/ Goth-Rock, Heavy Metal, piercings and tattoos). The ray of hope faded. "Make Love, Not War" degenerated into "Show Us Your Tits." The "us" decade ('60s) became the "me" decade ('70s). And now -- God help us -- we are firmly entrenched in what surely would've made the founding fathers wish they'd never been born: the"whatever" century.

This apathetic new millenium has ushered in not a glorious Odyssey of space exploration or a Brave New World of modern medicine -- but terrorism, fear, ignorance and intolerance. Politically, Ashcroft's medical marijuana raids and "President" Bush's environmental atrocities likely cause even die-hard liberals to fondly recall the days of Tricky Dick! Who could have ever imagined?!

And so "Alice's Restaurant" is another tragic arrow through our empty, modern- day heart -- a damning reminder of just how low this country has sunk, how far a nation of bloodless, soulless opportunists has strayed from the garden. Think of it! Once, this country poured its life blood into electing leaders who would end war and famine; now, we waste millions trying to impeach them for receiving blow jobs.

Jim Morrison was 35 years ahead of his time. The '60s -- in retrospect -- was the beginning. And this, now, is the end.

Peace.
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Watch it on its own terms
Felix-2814 January 2002
This movie is generally not highly regarded. Criticisms refer to the lack of plot or "aimlessness" and draw unfavourable comparisons with the song.

It is hardly ever appropriate to criticise a film by comparing it with the source from which it is derived. The film is a work in its own right, and it is no criticism to say that it is not like something else. There is no reason why a comic song should not be used as the basis for a tragic movie. The only such comparison that has any validity is one which uses the source work as a basis for demonstrating how a weakness in the derived work could have been avoided; or conversely, one which contrasts a virtue in the derived work with a corresponding deficiency in the source work.

On its own terms, "Alice's Restaurant" succeeds very well as a movie. The song on which it is based does no more than provide a sequence of events around which the movie is constructed. It is not a narrative; it is a portrait of a particular time and a particular section of American society. It meanders, but it is never tedious; there is always something interesting to see on the screen. It demonstrates how that section of society, or the representatives of it with whom the film is concerned, although rejecting many of the rules by which American society has historically been governed, nevertheless accepts that society's basic values and cannot avoid the consequences of the rejection of some of the rules. It is not a great movie, but it is a very good one.

I rate it as about 7.5 out of 10. The film that I find most similar to it is the French film "Round Midnight"; not because of its subject-matter, but because of its dreamy, unhurried mood.
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7/10
The First Full-Length Motion Picture Music Video?
hokeybutt29 May 2005
ALICE'S Restaurant (3+ outta 5 stars) Maybe not one of the best movies of the '60s but it is definitely worth checking out... as a sort of time capsule if nothing else. This was an "establishment" movie designed to cash in the popularity of the then-popular folk song by Arlo Guthrie. They got Arlo to star as himself... as well as several of his actual friends and acquaintances of the time... even the actual police officer who arrested him for the incident described in the song. Considering its mercenary intent the movie is a lot better than it has any right to be. This may not be one of director Arthur Penn's best movies but he definitely gets the most out of the concept. Guthrie now says that the movie is more of a version of what the straight world *thought* the hippie movement was all about rather than what it was *actually* about... with that in mind the movie still paints a pretty good picture of the times. Guthrie is a low-key performer but he definitely has some screen charisma... resembling a baby-faced Bob Dylan at times. This could be considered one of the first full-length motion picture music videos.
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More than just a hippie flick.
googlemorf10 January 2002
After seeing all the negative criticism, I just had to say a few words in the films defence. ALICE'S RESTAURANT is unconventionally produced, but it DEFINITELY has themes running through out it.. It deals with some profound issues about the era, particularly the concept of the pursuit of happieness. Note the significant change in tone in the last section: The marriage ceremony and party at the end brilliantly convey the idea of the characters trying to "be free" and have a good time, but that if there is aimlessness in your life, there will be a sadness there and you won't know were it is comming from. True, it also helps if you like folk music (witch I do). I found the scenes of Arlo by his father Woody's bed side quite touching, especially when he is performing with Pete Seagar. And of course, seeing the ALICE'S RESTUARANT MASSECREE acted out is delightful.
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Don't buy it if you think it's about the song.
beeryusa15 November 2002
Those who write complaining that the movie isn't like the song are missing the point. The movie isn't about the song, nor is the movie supposed to be based around the song. The movie merely includes the song - and some events in Arlo Guthrie's life in the 1960s. Get over the fixation about the song and you might begin to see what the movie is about.

Alice's Restaurant is about life and loss, and the traps we allow ourselves to get caught up in. It's about addiction, youth, anarchy, death, and aimlessness. It's a celebration and a lament for all those things.
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End of an era
trra7 October 2001
I bought this film on dvd, not really knowing why, as I didn't much care for it when I was younger. I saw it in the movies and it failed to capture the fun and humour of the song. Looking at it now, especially towards the end, I see it much differently. Maybe Arthur Penn was trying to capture the end of the Hippie era. Alice looks devastated as she watches her world and perhaps her dreams fall apart. Was all the innocence and freedom false? I think this film was before it's time. Regardless, it is probably the best depiction of a hippie "slice-of-life" ever made.
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8/10
A tad uneven, but still quite good
Woodyanders2 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Arlo Guthrie's hilariously mordant 20 minute story song gets adopted into an affably whimsical, episodic, occasionally funny and ultimately quite downbeat and sobering free-form feature by director Arthur Penn that astutely captures the key issues and concerns of the 60's hippie counterculture: dodging the draft, smoking grass, getting hassled by the pigs, being persecuted by grossly intolerant, narrow-minded, repressive straight conformist squares, trekking all over the country to find your true self, and defying everyday social conventions so you can do your own thing, man. The rambling, just barely there plot centers on the winningly droll, breezy and irreverent Guthrie's pilgrimage through the counterculture, a bizarre, eventful, eye-opening journey of self-discovery that reaches its peak when Arlo gets arrested for illegally dumping trash, thus making Arlo ineligible for wartime service in the army due to his disreputable status as an unrehabilitated criminal (the scenes at the army center are riotous, with M. Emmet Walsh in a gut-busting early role as the gruff Group W sergeant whose staccato motormouth way of talking renders everything he says incomprehensible).

Police chief William Obanheim appears as himself and proves to be a hugely likable good sport by allowing himself to be the endearingly humbled recipient of a few right-on japes made about uptight authority figures. "Glen and Randa" 's Shelley Plimpton has a nice cameo as a cute groupie who hits on Arlo at a party. The film's precise, clear-eyed portrait of the painfully gradual disintegration of flower power idealism and the cynicism and disillusionment that followed in its wake nowadays seems all too grimly true and prescient, with the volatile relationship between vulgar, boorish, obnoxious swinger James Broderick and his frustrated, irritated wife Pat Quinn (they play Ray and Alice Brock, the owners of the titular restaurant) brilliantly reflecting the turbulence and capriciousness of the period. Somewhat erratic and uneven, with a shaky tone that uneasily shifts between comedy and drama, this quirky, laid-back, naturalistic historical curiosity piece provides a lyrical and poignant time capsule of the 60's that for all its admitted imperfections nonetheless remains haunting and effective.
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8/10
The #1 Thanksgiving Movie
Andrew Nixon7 December 2002
I remember back in the 80s my Mom rented this movie and from the cover and title I didn't think I'd like it. Not only did I like it, but I now watch it every Thanksgiving season. I've always liked Arlo Guthrie's music and the soundtrack is excellent, featuring the title track which tells this true story. It's quite a fun movie, laced with moments of very serious elements like Woody, Arlo's dad, in the hospital. The scene in the hospital with Arlo and Pete Seeger singing the Car Car song to Woody in the hospital was very heartwarming. The characters are all colorful and enjoyable to watch and very typical of the folk scene in the late 60s, just before I was born.

***1/2 (Out of 4)
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10/10
the '60s, ladies and gentlemen
Lee Eisenberg18 June 2005
First of all, I have to admit that I did not experience the '60s; I was born long after they were over. My parents grew up in the '60s, so I've learned about that era from them, and from various other sources. But obviously, I can't truly understand what happened. "Alice's Restaurant" is one of the great records of the era. And a really funny one at that.

Arlo Guthrie plays himself trying to avoid getting drafted. The police arrest him for having long hair, and the army forces him into a recruiting center. In the recruiting center, they force him to walk around in his underwear. As an act of defiance, he declares: "I wanna see blood 'n' guts 'n' gore 'n' veins! I wanna kill, man!" Of course Arlo's favorite hang-out is Alice Brock's restaurant in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. That place could be the embodiment of the whole 1960s.

Anyway, "Alice's Restaurant" is nowadays a look back at when the country's youth were fighting for a better future (people who lived through the '60s would probably object to how I said that). And in the Bush era, we really long for that.

By the way, I saw Arlo Guthrie in concert when he came to Portland in 1998, and then again in 2004. Both concerts were great.
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5/10
From Out Of The Past
Lechuguilla23 April 2005
With its scenes of cars and motorcycles gunning down the road, its voice overs from a youthful Arlo Guthrie, its attempts at humor, and its generally nonchalant tone, "Alice's Restaurant" may strike some viewers as nothing more than the hippie version of "The Dukes Of Hazard". Why was this film made? What's the point?

In 1969, the film's creators assumed that viewers "got it" ... the clothes, the lingo, the character's motivations, ... ergo, no explanations needed. And none were needed then, or so long as the political and social environment of 1969 continued.

But it didn't continue. The world changed. America changed. Now, 36 years later, the film's clownish images and vapid script suggest a cinematic shallowness, bordering on burlesque, rather than an effort to impart a meaningful message. We are thus forced to consult historical points of reference, to make sense of what we see and hear.

In this film, as in other 60's counterculture films like "Easy Rider", the plot is secondary. To tell a story is less important than to communicate a powerful philosophy. Invariably, that philosophy would include some reference to personal freedom, resentment of institutional authority, peace, and non-materialistic values.

In "Alice's Restaurant", therefore, the clothes, the lingo, and the character's motivations are expressions of that "Age Of Aquarius" philosophy. Had the film's creators explained, by way of script or visuals, the underlying rationale for this philosophy, they could have rendered a timeless message to future generations.

As it is, the film now has mostly nostalgic appeal to older viewers who need no explanations. To young viewers, who lack historical reference points, the film may seem like some quaint period piece, that has almost no relevance, in an era of capitalistic exploitation and lost idealism.
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10/10
From Vietnam to Iraq
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU10 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
1969 was a turning point in American history. And this film is still living on the hippie dream, on the flower kids and their illusion that life is nothing but music and fun. Even the war and the draft are made small and insignificant, as if you could escape the draft because you had been arrested, tried and convicted of a crime like littering. Why not jaywalking? 1969 was the arrival of Nixon, the invasion of Cambodia, after the Tet offensive, escalation and blindness among all political personnel or politicians. The film thus is a full nightmare in disguise as a freewheeling period of complete enjoyment and happiness, wedding and champagne added as a reward for your trust in the future. And yet the film is a tremendous satire of that very short-sighted and careless spirit. Every detail is symbolical and metaphorical. Arlo Guthrie's girl friend looks very Vietnamese, a symbol of the war going on that no one wants to see. The church that is sold is also the symbol of the loss of faith and legitimacy in the US. Everything is just running down and away. And that is crowned at the end by this very last scene where Alice and Ray are literally abandoned by Arlo and Mari-chan, and Alice is not standing in any Wonderland then, but in her wedding dress, early in the sunless morning on the front steps of the church of hers, unmoving and silent in a world where there is a light breeze that makes her veil float slightly, both the veil and its shadow on the church wall, and Alice and the church are captured by the slowly moving camera following some circle whose center is Alice herself and every so often a tree trunk goes by in the picture, and the whole church is surrounded by a complete waste land, all dirt and no grass, brown and muddy. The church itself looks unkempt and its paint seems to be more or less starting to scale. A world abandoned and being wasted, wrecked, dumped along the way of history that is going to come, a vision we can imagine bleak and sad, tearful and fearful, frightening and full of pain. There is like some nostalgia at that time about a good old world that has vanished in thin air and will never be back. See you, bye bye, forever. That was a time when the United States, for the first time in their history, had met an obstacle they could not negotiate. And today this past vision is becoming so premonitory of the forty years it will take for hope to come back in time to be able to assume the changing world in which the US are no longer to be number one and yet when they can recapture some leadership provided they accept to share responsibilities and resources. That idea of sharing definitely was not in the air in 1969 and the dissatisfied young people could only dream of a freewheeling enjoyment of what was at their disposal without any effort of any kind. And the vice-principal of my high school was telling us in the car that took us to the Teachers' Union state convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, how a simple atom bomb on Hanoi or ,Haiphong would bring in victory. The higher the monkey climbs in the tree… You know the second part of the saying I guess, if not go and check in Sri Lanka, for instance, what you can see when the monkey is going up into the tree leaving you on the ground, your eyes rising slowly to follow the butt sight of the acrobatic animal.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
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6/10
of a time
SnoopyStyle17 September 2017
Based on his folk song, Arlo Guthrie plays himself. He's facing the draft and joining the counter-culture. His father is in the hospital with dementia. He encounters and befriends various people. He and his friend are arrested for a massive case of littering but they get off easy as the blind judge fails to see the evidence. He's called up for the draft but his littering conviction keeps him out of the war.

Arlo Guthrie and his song come from a time and place. I'm not familiar with it. I'm sure there is great meaning to some of this film. I'm not privy to it. To me, it's simply a rambling journey following a less-than-charismatic lead. He's not really an actor. He's playing himself in the most casual way. This is a time capsule of a certain time. It meanders too much to be a compelling narrative but it does have some interesting aspects. It's respectful of the counter-culture. There are a few funny cute moments. The second half is more surreal and therefore much better. This is one weird movie.
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8/10
A nice glimpse into the counterculture era.
James Iliff26 May 2010
Arthur Penn seems to portray the hippie culture in a very honest light. He doesn't directly appeal to the opinion of mainstream America, or the establishment "square" opinion of the counterculture, but rather appeals to the counterculture itself in the form of a cautionary tale. In Alice's Restaurant, he does not poke fun at and satirize the hippie culture like in I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!, nor does he dramatize it and glorify it like in Easy Rider. Instead, the hippie culture is portrayed in a series of events much like real life experiences of real hippies. At first, the youth gravitated towards the hippie culture and the commune system for its freedom, sexuality, and drug-use. However, as time wore on, the commune ideal began to crumble like many other communist societies do- hippies begin to realize they are leeches on society, and in their valiant efforts to 'stick it to the man,' they incidentally remain reliant on the establishment to live.

Alice's restaurant portrays the joys of commune life. In two particular scenes- the Thanksgiving dinner and the final marriage ceremony- life as a hippie is free, careless, and exciting. Everyone is happy and relaxed, there are no problems, and they can freeload all they want. This appealed to many people in the counterculture, and the film even reinforced these sentiments. However, it also appealed to the establishment's ideals. In one scene, Arlo is thrown out of the window of a restaurant for having long hair, as long hair is the stigma of the counterculture movement. This reflects some of the violence of the establishment against the hippies, and demonstrates the daily struggles of being a member of the counterculture. This may have portrayed the establishment as evil and hateful, however by the end of the film, the opinion of the establishment is subtly expressed.

As the film progresses, the audience begins to realize the pitfalls of the commune system. One member of the commune falls victim to drug addiction, and overdoses on heroin. His death shows a dark side of the counterculture that is rarely expressed- drugs can be a gritty and terrible thing, and with freedom comes much responsibility to keep such addictions at bay. Free love and drug use may be fun and care-free for awhile, but drug overdose and the epidemic of STDs clearly show that there are consequences for such a lifestyle.

Also, on a much more subtle level, in the last shot of the film we see Alice longingly staring at the camera after Arlo has just left the commune. This takes place just after the marriage ceremony, which was the last effort of Alice's husband, Ray, to reinforce the commune ideal. As Ray romantically expresses his ideas of somehow opening another commune, Alice begins to realize the ultimate flaw of the counterculture, and despairingly awaits what will be come a terrible, fruitless marriage. Opening more communes certainly will not fix the problems of the current one- yet it is a common idea expressed by many communistic societies on the brink of destruction. If just one more- one more- commune were to be built, everything would be fine. Every commune begins well, but all suffer the same fate. Ultimately the members of the counterculture are freeloaders on the establishment society, and cannot survive once all resources have been used up in one place. Another commune in a different location may solve the problem momentarily, but unless the commune lives off the land and becomes self-sustaining, it will always fail. This is the limitation of the hippie culture, and this is exactly why such an alternative lifestyle is no longer widely existent today in America. It burnt itself out- and Arthur Penn offers this forlorn prediction in that final shot. Everything has fallen apart, Arlo has given up the commune life for the time being, and Ray is desperately grasping at straws to keep it together and stay sane and happy. Even though Alice has a Restaurant, and a way to make money, ultimately the very hippies they surround themselves with in the commune will suck it dry and move on.

In Alice's Restaurant, the counterculture is revealed for what it truly is- fun, refreshing, and irresponsible. The "squares" may not have any fun, but they get things done. Ultimately, the establishment, with all its lousy rules and regulations, stigmas and dogmas, was right- and Penn did an excellent job of gently telling this to the counterculture. The hippie youth went to see the film and surely enjoyed it, but most likely left the theatre with a slight unease and a nagging sense of dread.
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9/10
If you love the song, you MUST see the movie!!!!
alc017 October 2002
If you remember the 60's - or if you want to remember what we did during the 60's, then this is the classic move to watch. The song is based on the true story - the real events of that famous Thanksgiving diner. The movie is based on the song and the events as well.

Folk music carried on by the first family of American Folk Music - Woody and Arlo Guthrie - American Icons and Heros - in their own way.

If you are not into the 60's or folk music - don't bother.
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3/10
Time capsule of the late 60's
Anyone know of a good movie that was based on a song? Boy, I sure don't. Recall "Ode to Billy Joe" and "The Gambler". No exception here. Don't look for a plot here either. The story that is told in the song Alice's Restaurant takes but a few minutes to tell in the movie. Surrounding it is a mish-mash of scenes (it would be a stretch to call them sub-plots, especially considering that there is no main plot) that have very little to do with each other. If you want to see what the world looked liked in 1968 through the eyes of a young, mild-mannered folk singer, this is your movie.
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8/10
fun and incendiary, it's a nifty flashback and more than a little resonant
MisterWhiplash4 October 2007
You've seen the kid with the long hair who's told 'cut it', and won't. And then there's a misunderstanding like the one in the story of Alice's Restaurant, where it's a weird downward spiral where garbage, the law, and Vietnam get intertwined. The actual dramatization of the events that are detailed in the now traditional Thanksgiving album (only because, I guess, Arlo is having Thanksgiving dinner at Alice's) is about as faithful as imaginable, but I'd say the scenes earlier on, when Arlo has just come into town and isn't able to really stay at any pad for too long due to his long hair and his inability to conform to playing music right in classes. These are subtle jabs at the outcast of the times- not simply as a 'hippie', as Arlo Guthrie is a little too folksy to be a typical hippie, albeit not too far removed for Woodstock- and as a mostly one-sided take on the issue of the 'hippies', it doesn't demonize one side, while not making bones about showing the upright citizens as those who are close-minded.

Filled with some great tunes, and an attitude to film-making by Arthur Penn that reflects its creator in a somewhat lighter, though no less socially conscious mind-set than Bonnie & Clyde (except less disguised), Alice's Restaurant is imperfect entertainment and a glimpse of the period that will appeal to anyone at all interested or remember all-too-well the socio-political troubles. It's a capsule, but not too shabby with age; plays probably as the first side of a double-billing with 1969's Easy Rider.
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9/10
Alice's Restaurant
Scarecrow-8810 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A moment in the life of a folk singer, Arlo(Arlo Guthrie)who spends time trying to make it in the music biz by doing the bar scene while also frequenting at a hippie commune/restaurant derived from a former Catholic church. His many numerous acquaintances are a major part of this story as we get to know those who hang around the commune. Arlo also pays visits to his ailing father, Woody. We see the humor, tragedy, and response towards living the hippie lifestyle.

Alice(Pat Quinn, who is simply delightful)runs the kitchen at the commune often tired of her man, Ray's(James Broderick)constant decisions to bring more and more off the street for her to cook for. She's the surrogate mother for those that choose this way of living, but often yearns for more. The tragic element of the film is Shelly(Michael McClanathan), a young man trying endlessly to kick a nasty drug habit and loved almost as a son by Ray & Alice. We see in a love-making scene that Alice also cares for him sexually. They try their damnedest to keep him off the pipe, but seeing the agony of that decision leads us to believe it's only a matter of time before he caves in.

Through Arlo's narration, we get some witty interludes such as the "littering" sequence where Deputy Obie(William Obanhein)obsessively goes completely by the rules in exact, hilarious detail. The sequence where Arlo goes in for his numerous tests to see if he's fit for Vietnam is also quite funny(in that sequence, there's a hilarious cameo from a young E Emmet Walsh as a fast-talking test-giver).

But, the film depicts the characters and dialogue with such richness, intelligence, and heart..there isn't a false note amongst the cast. The film's subject matter and portrait of this lifestyle rings true. The narration is marvelous and the film keeps that tone pretty much throughout.
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6/10
Unexpectedly sombre, harsh, apolitical view of "hippie" life
petrelet24 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I can almost reproduce the "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" from memory, but I never saw this film back in the day or since. I just watched it, and it was quite a surprise. It has a tone which is quite alien to Arlo's own tone as a performer at the time. Arlo sang back then as a cheerful, confident comic voice with a political subtext a millimeter below the surface, rallying the movement. The film is dark and depressing in many spots, and in the other spots it is really a scathing portrait of Arlo and (male) hippiedom as selfish privileged irrelevant sexist jerks (truthfully there was a lot of this), isolated in a land of violent intolerant yahoos.

(Which means, I suppose, that most people in America in 2017 will find it relevant, since they can enjoy the negative caricatures of their enemies as long as they are willing to ignore the negative caricatures of themselves. This continued relevance is part of why I rated it as high as I did!)

Jarred by all this, I looked up the film afterwards on Wikipedia and discovered that Arlo had nothing to do with the script, which was basically Arthur Penn's work. (On the other hand, he decided to act in it!) There are more parallels with "Bonnie and Clyde", considering both as crime movies, than you would think! There are a lot of notable editorial decisions, such as:

  • So far as we can tell, the movie Arlo has few political beliefs, and wants to get out of the draft by any possible means just because he doesn't want to go.


  • The movie starts off with Arlo fighting the draft by trying to make the Black clerk's day miserable with his snarky answers.


  • The whole movie is framed within the months of Woody Guthrie's dying of Huntington's chorea (displaced in time, btw).


  • To bring down the tone further, Shelly, a heroin-addicted friend of Arlo's, is invented and treated as pitiable and doomed.


  • Ray Brock is portrayed as sexist, verbally abusive toward Alice, and verbally and physically abusive toward Shelley. (Women in general have little to say or do in this movie except sleep with the male characters. Alice is portrayed as basically reacting ineffectually to the chaos around her.)


  • Although the title song was sung by the real-life Arlo as a rallying cry for anti-war and anti-draft mass action, none of this comes into the film at all.


As an illustration of how this comes together, let's look at the key scene where Arlo and company, having found that the town dump is closed on Thanksgiving and they can't dump their microbusful of garbage there, find a bridge over a garbage-strewn streambed and throw all their garbage down there. Is it just age, or the passage of years, that makes me say, "Where do you guys get off throwing your crap in that stream?!" We then see that a comic yokel woman driving by witnesses this, is horrified, and calls the local police. Who does Penn want us to sympathize with here? Possibly we are supposed to just feel superior to everyone. Frankly I think the police chief had the last laugh in portraying himself in this movie, possibly realizing that most people, left and right, are glad he found out who illegally disposed of that rubbish.

The movie ends with the newly-married Alice standing all alone in her wedding dress for an extended take, possibly just reflecting on the miserable world she lives in and the miserable people in it. I don't think the sixties were that hopeless a period, but Penn possibly wasn't the guy to find out where the hope was.
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Hasn't Worn Well
dougdoepke10 June 2012
Except for the bloody politician's war in Vietnam, I still have some affection for the '60's. The period was certainly a liberating experience from the uptight 1950's. However, viewed now apart from the hype of the time, Penn's movie has not worn well at all. It does convey something of the communal spirit of the day; plus the sweet-faced Guthrie has an appropriately congenial screen presence. But too many passages now seem pointlessly meandering, having lost whatever topicality they might have had. Another reviewer's comparison of the film with that of a home movie captures, I think, the basic flaw.

Nonetheless, the movie manages a couple of amusingly revealing episodes. It's no surprise for the '60's, that both have to do with authority run amok. First the cops go to absurd lengths to convict Guthrie of littering, of all things; then in the film's highpoint, the tyrannical army- processing center treats him like a criminal. Though done satirically, each represents a popularly rebellious attitude of the time. Then too, unlike the rest of the film, the impact here is structured for effect.

One other noteworthy point—it's no accident, I think, that it's a church the youngsters convert for their purposes. This can be understood as another subversion of authority by replacing the formal rules of authoritarian religion with those of the more easy-going humanism established by the communal restaurant. (At the same time, the sacramental wine of the former is replaced by a ceremonial joint that gets passed around.) Of course, without anything like formal rules, a downside is revealed once Alice ends up doing all the restaurant work, which the others happily shirk.

The ending remains something of a puzzle. I take the forlorn bride (Alice) as a comment on the Hollywood cliché of 'they lived happily ever after'. Shrewdly, Penn doesn't want to leave us with the impression that a hippie ethic solves all social problems. Anyway, seeing the movie now, I realize how far into obscurity it has sunk after the big splash it made on initial release. For a much more entertaining and insightful glimpse of the period, check out Hal Ashby's mordant black comedy Harold and Maude (1972).
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2/10
An attempt to capture an era (and a song)
Steve Liu24 November 1999
This film centers around Woody Guthrie's son and his trials and tribulations growing up. Arlo Guthrie wanders across the country, playing his music and visiting friends. He winds up with adult friends Ray and Alice, who are adult in age only. From there, the film seems to wander more than Arlo does.

Alice's Restaurant mainly attempts to capture the essence of the 60's. Firmly anti-establishment, the main characters are hard to sympathize with. In general, I feel it is not a great idea to base a film on a song.

There are entertaining points of the film, to be sure. The army recruitment center is a humorous look at the draft. Much of Arlo's narrative is witty and the familiar twang of his story telling voice makes it work. The plot, however, is lacking. The film seems to go on for too long and winds up smack in the middle of nowhere. At nearly two hours, it is a bit long winded as well, although it says nearly nothing. The ending leaves something to be desired. Feelings toward the characters are often mixed and unclear. Not a bad song, not a good film.

I gave this film a 2 out of 10. It was entertaining at points, but lacked artistic and technical snap. The story was non-existent, characters weak, and relationships confusing. The song is great though. Don't go out of your way to see this film, you won't really miss much.
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2/10
Profoundly disappointing
parcival-329 March 2010
The last time I saw this film, it had just come out in the theaters. I was in high school, preparing for college, had a rebellious streak in me...you know, the usual.

What I always remembered about it was the funeral song, at Shelly's grave, "Song for Aging Children," a song I still love. So I got the DVD.

Now that I'm older, though not less rebellious, I find the film to have been put together like it was done by a junior high school kid with a few bucks to spare. It had the anti-authority clichés, you know the cops are all a bunch of idiots, and the young people who make up the bulk of the cast were all well-meaning and care-free. Well, yeah. But it takes some money to do what they were doing. From where did they get the money? There was also a theme of motorcycle racing that really didn't fit in well, or was at least not adequately explained.

And the acting was ghastly. Apparently the director picked some people, I don't know, maybe friends of Guthrie? Or they were in the director's garage band or something? Overall, it was a band of silly late-60s clichés, and a story without a point. And that's kind of sad. The song is a classic folk song/tale, an anthem to an era. But the film, is pretty useless, unless you want to show those clichés and what they ostensibly represent.
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5/10
You can get everything you want at Alice's Restaurant...but
Mike_Offerosky3 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Alice's Restaurant is one of those film's with a reputation. A film not necessarily classic in the way people speak of it, but one that's definitely of its time. Alice's Restaurant benefits greatly from Arlo Guthrie's charismatic performance. All is well when the film starts Arlo is registering for the draft and trying to get out of it by telling them about a family ailment. Unfortunately since Arlo doesn't have the ailment at the time he will still be eligible. Arlo then tries attending school to get out of the draft. He's given a rough time because he's a hippie and because he gets accused of vandalism (he gets blamed for breaking a restaurants window) he is put on probation (although he was the one thrown through the window). He decides to visit old friends Alice (of the title) and Ray who run a hippie commune. Here is where the film starts to bog down. Ray has an anger problem and it's not really explained what he's angry at or why. Also one of the people from the commune is back from serving his time in the Army so Ray picks him up. There's some feeling that maybe he had some bad experiences in the war and maybe he had post traumatic stress. Then we learn that he was hooked on heroin. The film gets bogged down in plot that it doesn't explain well. Occasionally Arlo visits his father Woody in the hospital and in one memorable scene Arlo plays with Pete Seeger to cheer up his father. Such tender scenes work well. When the film keeps things light it works well. Unfortunately, the film is uneven and that hampers the fun a bit. The music is a plus and some of the counterculture elements play well but the drama seems strained and makes it difficult to slog through. One particular thing that makes the viewer scratch his head is the mood swings of Alice. One moment she's really easy going then she just snaps and blows up. It's very odd. While there are likable elements I just can't fully recommend this piece of nostalgia. It's a real shame because it could have been a real milestone especially with Arlo Guthrie performance and Arthur Penn at the helm.
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