Years ago, before we knew what to expect from Martin Scorsese, he gave us one of the most unexpected films of his career. “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (1974), is a drama film that has no gangsters, no killing, no Leonardo DiCaprio and no Robert De Niro. It was also unusual because the script was brought to him by the film’s star, Ellen Burstyn. She had read the script and thought it had a lot of potential, but felt it was lacking somewhere. It turns out that what “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” needed was Martin Scorsese.
Alice (Burstyn) in a housewife and mother who spends most of her time trying to please her husband, Donald (Billy Green Bush), and keep her son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), out of trouble. When Donald dies in a car accident, Alice doesn’t know what how she can provide for Tommy and herself. With the support of her friend Flo (Diane Ladd), she decides to return to her hometown of Monterey and try to become a singer. She doesn’t have enough money to make the trip from New Mexico, but she embarks on her journey and figures she can work along the way.
On her trip she and her son encounter several interesting characters, most of whom are unhelpful to their cause. Ben (Harvey Keitel) is an abusive man only looking for one thing, Audrey (Jodie Foster) is a juvenile delinquent who causes more trouble than she’s worth, and David (Kris Kristofferson) is a divorced cowboy looking for a second chance in life.
The early 1970’s brought about quite a few films that empowered women. Ellen Burstyn’s role in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” is one of the strongest female roles in cinematic history. Her performance is utterly brilliant, as she combines the perfect mixture of determination and timidity that a young widow would need in order to survive in a “man’s” world. Burstyn was rewarded for her undeniably genius portrayal with the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Burstyn alone makes this film worth seeing, but what sets “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” apart from its contemporaries is the unique filmmaking quality that Scorsese possesses. There is an undeniably raw and gritty feel to this film. Nothing is glossy or sugar coated, and every scene that takes place in a dirty, claustrophobic bar or motel feels like a dirty, claustrophobic bar or motel. The streets are polluted, the buildings are old and dilapidated, and the tactless waitresses have an authentic crassness that other films don’t reach on the same level.
In addition to his overall feel, Scorsese, who was still a newcomer to the filmmaking community, was getting a feel for how his films would be shot. Here we are sixteen years before his famous steadicam shot in “Goodfellas” (1990), and Scorsese has a smaller, yet equally impressive shot through the back of a diner and into a bathroom. His genius was already there, and people were just barley beginning to understand the greatness that was coming.
I have always felt that with a few exceptions Scorsese films have been filled with a plethora of strong male roles. When a female has had a strong role in a Scorsese movie it tends to be a supporting performance such as Lorraine Bracco in “Goodfellas”, Cate Blanchett in “The Aviator”, Sharon Stone in “Casino” or Cathy Moriarty in “Raging Bull”. I love seeing a Scorsese movie that is completely carried by the female lead, and Ellen Burstyn and Scorsese ended up being the perfect fit for this wonderfully told story.Back to Home for More Reviews