Sunday, January 24, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: Five Easy Pieces

The Scene: Someplace, somewhere there is a support group for waitresses whose life has been made hell by Five Easy Pieces.

Not that there weren't rude restaurant patrons before the 1970 film. It's just that Bobby DuPea's table manners came off as being so "kewl," so "revolutionary," so "stickin'-it-to-the-man, right-on," that it probably emboldened the on-the-fence "I-want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it-because-the-customer-is-always-right" patron into copy-catting the behavior, thinking it was their right and privilege to do so, rather than admitting that...oh, I don't know...that maybe they're just a-holes.

Yeah, everybody had a visceral thrill that it was some kind of revolutionary hipster-cool, and worth a laugh, but the cold light of day reveals that it's not much of a revolution when "The Man" you're taking your righteous anger out on is a woman making less than minimum wage plus tips. That's some cowardly way to make a statement. Fact of the matter is, this "act of rebellion" is merely "acting out"--a tantrum by an immature man who can't get "his way." Frankly, he's lucky he didn't get one of his pianist's hands pinned to the formica with a steak-knife, Luca Brasi-style.

But, then a number of Nicholson's characters spit down the food-chain at the worker bee's. And Nicholson knew it. He said that he didn't play a character he'd actually like to have lunch with until he played astronaut Craig Breedlove in Terms of Endearment. Certainly he'd be holding onto his plate during lunch with Bobby Dupea. He knew he was playing jerks. But like so many actors who've been appalled by the public's acceptance, and even glorification, of their bad guys,* it didn't stop him from pursuing those roles. He just made them more outlandish to escape the public's reach. And occasionally use them to make a point.

Point is: these people are already servants, there's no reason to demean them further by being a jerk, no matter if Nicholson does it on the big screen. If you think there is, you deserve a big lugie in your plain omelette, hold the potatoes. As Dupea notes in the very next scene "Didn't get me my toast, did it?"

Nope. So, be sure to tip your wait-staff. Just don't knock 'em over.

The Set-Up: Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson), ne-er-do-well member of a well-to-do family of musical prodigies has returned home to the Pacific Northwest to a pay a last visit to his dying father. Rootless and aimless, Robert is driving back with his girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black) to his latest job working in an oil-field. Along the way, he's picked up two women (Helena Kallianiotes and Toni Basil..."Mickey" Toni Basil?) who've managed to drive their car into a ditch. Seeking respite from the bickering occurring in the car, Bobby stops at a diner to eat.

Prob'ly shoulda stopped at Burger King.

Order up!

Robert Dupea: I'd like a plain omelette, no potatoes, tomatoes instead, a cup of coffee, and wheat toast.
Waitress: No substitutions.
Robert: What do you mean? You don't have any tomatoes?
Waitress: Only what's on the menu. You can have a number two: a plain omelette. It comes with cottage fries and rolls.
Robert: Yeah, I know what it comes with, but it's not what I want.
Waitress: Well, I'll come back when you make up your mind.
Robert: Wait a minute, I have made up my mind.
Robert: I'd like a plain omelette... ...
Robert: potatoes on the plate...
Robert: ...a cup of coffee, and a side order of wheat toast.
Waitress: I'm sorry, we don't have any side orders of toast. I'll give you an English muffin or a coffee roll.
Robert: What do you mean, you don't make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don't you?
Waitress: Would you like to talk to the manager?
Hitchhiker: Hey, mac!
Robert: Shut up.
Robert: You've got bread and a toaster of some kind?
Waitress: I don't make the rules.
Robert: Okay, I'll make it as easy for you as I can. I'd like an omelette, plain, and a chicken-salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce and a cup of coffee.
Waitress: A number two: chicken-salad sand', hold the butter, the lettuce, the mayonnaise, and a cup of coffee.
Waitress: Anything else?
Robert: Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for a chicken-salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.
Waitress: You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Robert: I want you to hold it between your knees.
Waitress: You see that sign, sir?
Waitress: Yes, you all have to leave. I'm not taking any more of your smartness and sarcasm.
Robert: You see this sign?
(He sweeps everything off the table)

Five Easy Pieces

Words by Carole Eastman (writing as Adrien Joyce)

Pictures by László Kovács and Bob Rafelson

Five Easy Pieces is available on DVD from Columbia Tri-Star Home Video.

It's a long list: Marlon Brando in The Wild One and The Godfather, Nicholson in Chinatown, Darth Vader in Star Wars, Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs,... now that I think of it, Anthony Hopkins liked the fact that people enjoyed Dr. Lecter.

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