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Fried Green Tomatoes

Unfairly categorized as a chick flick on its release, Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) could have gained from a little creative advertising — after all, it's a movie about murder, lesbians, and cannibalism. If the ads had played up those features, the 18-to-25 male demographic would've bought tickets in droves. Based on Fannie Flagg's best-selling novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, it's firstly the story of Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates), a dumpy, dissatisfied middle-aged Alabama housewife. On a visit with her dull lump of a husband Ed (Gailard Sartain) to the nursing home where her mother-in-law is housed, Evelyn meets Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy), a lively octogenarian who tells Evelyn stories about her family. In flashback sequences that form the main body of the film, we're treated to the 1930's era tale of wild child Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson), who's heartbroken when her beloved brother Buddy (Chris O'Donnell) is killed in a freak accident. She leaves the family home and becomes an uncontrollable tomboy, smoking, drinking, and playing poker with the local men at a dive riverfront bar. In an attempt to tame her, Idgie's mother calls for Buddy's fiancee, Ruth (Mary Louise Parker), believing that Ruth's ladylike demeanor will have a positive effect on Idgie. And it does — but Idgie also changes Ruth, bringing excitement and wonder into her sheltered existence. As Ninny shares the tale of Ruth and Idgie — a story that includes an escape from an abusive husband, the pair's opening of a café, attacks by Klansmen, and a hushed-up murder — Evelyn finds courage from it and begins to take control of her own life.

Made ever-so-slightly before Hollywood's recent embracing of all things gay, Fried Green Tomatoes skates delicately around the true nature of Ruth and Idgie's relationship, which was much more straightforward in the novel. But as nice as it would have been to have seen the romantic aspect of their love given full play, in truth it's actually better this way — viewers who are less than accepting of same-sex relationships can enjoy Fried Green Tomatoes on their own terms. As with pictures from the 1930's onward that couched homosexuality in ambiguous terms, it's possible for the viewer to just see the main characters as very, very, very good friends, if that's what makes them more comfortable. Whatever your perspective, the love between women has never been better portrayed than it is here, and the story is an inspiring one about people who choose to live their lives by their own rules despite resistance from those around them. Jon Avnet's direction is uninspired, but serviceable — he was blessed with excellent source material, a terrific script, and a top-notch cast, so it would have been difficult to botch the job. Credit is due cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson, who makes the locations (Georgia, standing in for Alabama) palpably lush and appropriately nostalgic.

Universal's "Anniversary Edition" release of Fried Green Tomatoes (apparently 15 is a milestone in DVD years) replaces two previous versions, an early bare bones release and a 1998 "Collector's Edition." The 137-minute film is the same version as the previous Collector's Edition, but now digitally remastered — and it's beautiful. Amazingly sharp and clean with rich, saturated color, the contrast has been bumped up in the nighttime scenes and the honeyed color palette of the 1930s segments is lovely. Audio has been upgraded as well, from Dolby Digital 2.0 in previous releases to DD 5.1, and it's a real improvement — clean, clear and just better in every way. The extras are, for the most part, the same as on the Collector's Edition — a solid, detail-intensive commentary track by director Avnet, the excellent featurette "Moments of Discovery: The Making of Fried Green Tomatoes" with lots of cast interviews (70 min.), "Sipsey's Recipes," a collection of recipes for pies, chicken, red-eye gravy and, naturally, fried green tomatoes, and a stills gallery. New to this edition are some deleted snippets (1 min.), a number of uninteresting outtakes (2 min.), and a gallery of posters. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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