Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Robert Getchell
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Alfred Lutter III, Harvey Keitel, Diane Ladd, Jodie Foster
A recently widowed woman (Burstyn) rekindles her dream of being a singer as she treks West in search of a new life for herself and her son (Lutter).
After Mean Streets, director Martin Scorsese (The Departed) shifted into a different kind of story with Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. This was the first screenplay written by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robert Getchell (The Client). The movie stars Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist), Kris Kristofferson (Heaven’s Gate), Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction), Diane Ladd (Chinatown), Alfred Lutter III (The Bad News Bears) and Jodie Foster (The Accused).
This story is a coming-of-age drama with an interesting twist. Instead of a young person coming into their own, this one is about a grown woman seeking a second chance at life. The script creates a world for the characters that is harsh and complicated. Within that world there are a number of fascinating characters that come into contact with Alice. The dialogue is excellent, and it feels very genuine to the era and the setting of the movie. The best aspects of this movie are the intense interactions between the characters. These moments seem to reveal a lot about the characters and their motives. Thankfully, this one also has success in the lighter moments. The relationship between Alice and her son also provides a number of great moments in this one. This one does have some predictable moments where it’s easy to see what’s coming. Still, the payoffs are strong and the plot has a nice resolution. The successes of the story were enough to earn Robert Getchell an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
The cast of this movie was chosen perfectly. Initially, the producers offered the role of Alice to Shirley MacLaine. She turned down the part, and Ellen Burstyn was given the role. This turned out to be a stroke of luck, since Burstyn’s performance is amazing. Throughout the movie she brings out a certain awkward naivete that her character needs to have. She also does a good job with a huge range of emotions. Her chemistry with Keitel and Kristofferson bring out some great moments in the story. The best connection she makes throughout the film is with Alfred Lutter III. The mother-son connection in the movie drives the plot thanks to a real sense of honesty. Martin Scorsese would later acknowledge that many of their scenes features improvisation, and Lutter held his own opposite Burstyn. For her part, Ellen Burstyn would win an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Harvey Keitel also adds something nice to this one. While his role is relatively small, it’s also important to the story. His role required a darker intensity at times, and he delivers with a great performance. Kris Kristofferson’s performance is also solid. In many ways he has the least complicated role in the film, but he does a nice job giving his character an authenticity that it definitely needed.
Diane Ladd also does great work in this one. Her performance is strong and witty, and she connects nicely with Burstyn. Her work would earn her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. A very young Jodie Foster also adds a nice performance to the mix. Throughout the movie there are so many small performances that add texture and realism to the world of the story.
This movie captures the look and feel of rural America in the 1970s. The costuming and sets don’t ever take the audience out of a very real version of the world. There is also a whimsical opening sequence that just works. The film also uses great music within the story to highlight Alice and her dream of becoming a singer. The soundtrack features a number of hits from artists like Dolly Parton, Mott the Hoople, Leon Russell, and Elton John. Overall, there wasn’t anything missed in the production of this one.
This is a wonderfully honest drama, built around a solid script and great acting. Fans of the stars should make sure to see this one. I would also suggest this to anyone who loves Scorsese. This is a brutally honest movie at times, but there are also a lot of laughs. I give this one 4 out of 5 stars.