Nicholson's false life as an oil rig worker and his exit from it
Five Easy Pieces
Written and directed by Bob Rafelson.
Starring Jack Nickolson, Karen Black, Ralph Waite, Susan Anspach, Fannie Flagg, Sally Struthers.
Cinematography by Laslo Kovaks.
Tonight, 7:30 p.m. in 10-250.By Stephen Brophy
Five Easy Pieces is one of the finest films of Hollywood's last Golden Age (the late 1960s and early 1970s) and can easily withstand comparison to the best of European cinema of that period. Its portrait of an alienated man could not be finer if it were drawn by Antonioni, the great Italian artist of alienation. How is it possible that such a fine piece of work can come from the same hands that introduced the Monkees to American television?
The deceptively simple story follows a young man, Bobby Dupea, from his job on a Southwestern oil rig to a visit with his dying father and estranged family living on an island in Puget Sound. Jack Nickolson, in his first major role, portrays a young man running away from his past and probably also from his future. In the first few scenes showing his life on and off the oil rig, he moves just like any other cocky roustabout, but he does not totally fit into the bowling alley and trailer court life that ensconces him. As various stresses begin to turn into cracks on the facade of his artificial existence, we begin to see the fearful young artist peering out through those cracks.
Bobby lives with Rayette, a waitress who wants to be the next incarnation of Tammy Wynette, perfectly played by Karen Black. One of the first stresses comes when Bobby learns that she is pregnant - he gets into a fight on the oil rig which gets him fired and runs away to Los Angeles to visit a sister he has not seen in a few years. She tells him their father has suffered two strokes and will probably not live much longer and urges Bobby to visit him before he dies. Bobby allows Rayette to talk him into bringing her along, and thus the most American part of the story - the road trip - begins.
With every scene it is more and more clear that Bobby and Rayette are not made for each other, as much as they would like to be. The growing awareness of this incompatibility is masked by several comic sequences along the road, including the classic diner scene when Bobby tries to get a side order of toast from a recalcitrant waitress. When the duo arrives in Washington, Bobby parks Rayette at a motel and goes out to the island, where the various strains work themselves out to a final break.
Rafelson and Nickolson both got their start working with Roger Corman, one of the masters of independent exploitation cinema. A few years previous to Five Easy Pieces, they had formed a production company to bring the Monkees to the small screen and had gone on to make Head, a Monkee movie written by Nickolson. Soon after that, the company put together the package that became Easy Rider, and the course of American cinema was permanently altered. Five Easy Pieces became the next project after Easy Rider and is still considered to be among the finest works by either of its creators.