Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
- Ellen Burstyn as Alice Hyatt
- Alfred Lutter as Tommy Hyatt
- Kris Kristofferson as David
- Diane Ladd as Flo
- Harvey Keitel as Ben
- Jodie Foster as Audrey
A change of pace for Martin Scorsese, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore provides great evidence of his directorial skill and versatility. Focusing on the odyssey of a woman attempting to discover herself and hoping to fulfill long forgotten dreams, it’s a moving, at times funny and heartfelt film, beautifully lead by an Oscar-winning Ellen Burstyn.
Alice Hyatt is a downtrodden housewife, living in Socorro, New Mexico, with her inattentive husband Donald and precocious 12-year-old son Tommy. She once had some success as a singer, but after marrying gave it up for her husband. Desperately unhappy with a man who she is always trying to please, Alice is starting to come apart. Then Donald is killed in a car accident and Alice is left with barely anything. Packing up Tommy with what little she has, she starts out on a journey back to her childhood home. Alice hopes she can rekindle her old singing job again, especially as it will probably be her only source of income. Because of a money shortage, the two have to stop off every now and then. The first stop is in Phoenix, Arizona, where Alice finds some work as a lounge act. While singing is her passion, her wages are menial and it is becoming a struggle to keep Tommy in line. Add to this volatile Ben, who quickly becomes violent towards her and Alice must leave and attempt to get by once more. Fleeing from Phoenix, Alice, along with spoiled Tommy, stop in Tuscon. It is here that Alice gets a job as a waitress, something she hates at first. But as she manages to get through her days and becomes friends with loud, sassy Flo, life looks like it could be going up. She also meets rancher David, who is a kind but firm man taking an interest in her. Alice, obviously considering her history with men, is apprehensive about pursuing any kind of relationship. Eventually, she lets some of the walls down and opens up to the idea of romance. Yet will Alice’s blooming attraction to make her reconsider her pursuit of her dreams?
While a very different sort of movie than one would expect from Martin Scorsese, his style and command over the camera ensure Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a fine movie. Scorsese really gets the tone of the movie right; with melancholy moments being followed by laughter, much in the way that life can get and best exemplified by the almost always moving camerawork. Some of the film’s passages get uneven, but Scorsese allows the acting and story to play out with a naturalness and warmth that can’t be mistaken. The feminist streak throughout the story was well attuned to the 70’s, yet still bears semblance today as it examines the growing independence and struggles of a woman trying to cope on her own. The character of Alice is wonderfully written and her situation is a universal one that strikes a chord with any viewer. The relatable nature comes through in the first frames of a dream-like memory that resembles an old musical; which is bluntly counteracted by the reveal of Alice’s miserable home life years later. That scene really plays into much of what unfolds, as Alice journeys to discover herself and what she should do, even if its elusive at first. Now as I mentioned earlier, the pacing of the film can sometimes get a little off. I did find that some areas could have been expanded on and a few moments get superfluous, but these quibbles don’t distract from a moving story, undercut by both a bittersweetness and hopefulness. The film really picks up once Alice begins working as a waitress; the gentle humour and drama are wonderfully brought to life through the supporting characters and situations. The almost improvisational approach to the dialogue is another high point, letting everyone have a good rapport with both each other and the audience. A wide collection of songs are featured on the soundtrack, which fit in pretty splendidly with the constant ups and downs of Alice’s life.
Ellen Burstyn is the biggest shining light of the film, winning a much deserved Oscar for her sensitive work as the title character. Blessed with a genuinely sympathetic and expressive face, Burstyn covers the whole gamut of her character’s journey. From despair and uncertainty to growing in confidence, Burstyn’s work is authentic and beautifully done. You feel warmth when she smiles and want to cradle her when the hardships get too much. The biggest compliment I can give her is that she truly makes the part of Alice seem like a real human being, and I think that’s a testament to her talents as an actress. Alfred Lutter is appropriately questioning and pestering as the spoiled Tommy, who drives his mother up the wall. While it is easy to say he’s annoying, the part calls for that the mother and son don’t share the smoothest dynamic with one another, but there is a genuine love that is always present even when they are at loggerheads. Props to both for really forging a believable bond that runs throughout the movie. In what could have been just a role that took advantage of his handsomeness, Kris Kristofferson brings a lot more verve and soul to his part of rancher, smitten by the eponymous Alice. Stealing any scene in which she appears in is Diane Ladd, bringing forth a big personality and brassy mouth to the proceedings. Ladd is fabulous as the tough-talking waitress at first distant from and later close to Alice. The scenes between Ladd and Burstyn are a real delight too. A brief but memorable appearance by Harvey Keitel as a possessive and violent man who becomes involved with Alice, makes the drama really hit hard in his segment. A young Jodie Foster has the spirited attitude and rebelliousness as the girl who befriends Tommy and while it is a pretty small role, its noticeable.
Directed by Martin Scorsese and illuminated by Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore may not be his finest film, but it’s a dramatic triumph of care and heart that retains an impact through its story and mix of drama and comedy.