First the bad news;
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (Olive Films) is a banal, bathetic, talky motion picture. The acting is as uneven as the cliffs of the Grand Canyon, the camera work is jittery and irritating, the plot secrets and developments are about as subtle as a sledge hammer, and the entire film experience feels like an endless track through a blistering hot day in Texas.
Having said that, on an entirely different level, the film is sly, clever, life-affirming and heartbreaking at the same time, and a roller-coaster ride through memories, good and bad. What can you say about a memory play that takes places simultaneously in 1955 and 1975, based on a stage play produced and filmed with basically the same cast in 1982, that you sit down with your popcorn and coke to watch in 2015? Sixty years with speed bumps?
Basically, this is a moving and scathingly honest piece that screams that if you lie about the past, it will come up and bite you in the ass. Alas, this piece also screams that if you tell the truth, you are likewise chumped in the rear. Joey, the character who we see the least of, is the most honest and a fat lot of good the honesty does.
Twenty years after the death of James Dean, a fan club of half a dozen ladies dedicated to him gather to celebrate their hero. The celebration, in their home town, not far from Marfa, where Dean’s film Giant was shot, begins on a shaky note and runs downhill at breakneck speed. The surprises, though telegraphed heavily, are pretty much as painful and awful as one can get short of death.
The big question runs along the line of this: Is the memory better than the reality of the past? The answer plays like Chekhov on a binge.
The actresses in the film are a fearsomely talented group, and the one woman in the group hardly escapes unscathed. Sudie Bond, as the matriarch and owner of the real Five and Ten store, gives a brutally honest and heart-rending performance. Cher switches from bitchy comedy to self-lacerating pain with not a speck of self-pity. Karen Black brings love and dignity to a character dealt an unplayable hand in Texas. And then we have the great Sandy Dennis, here in full force. Let’s just say that her performance as Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was subtle and underplayed compared to what we have here. There are people who believe that either she should have taken a Valium before a performance, or else have dispensed one to each member of the audience. Kathy Bates and Marta Heflin round out the half dozen Dean fans. Bates has snagged herself an oil millionaire and laughs. A lot. Loudly. At anything. Get the picture? And Heflin is this self-effacing little wife who is working visibly on her seventh child. She may be the happiest of the bunch. The only male fan club member is played brilliantly by Mark Patton.
Memory pieces tend to be quiet and slowly self-revelatory. This is neither. It’s loud and fast and if you blink you could miss important plot points. The story is moving; the cast is incredibly strong. To be sure it’s a painful, irritating, interminable trek through the past to reveal the present. But, hey, life is like that. Most of the time.
First the bad news;