Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (review)

(7 out of 10)
dir. Martin Scorsese
starring: Ellyn Burstyn, Alfred Lutter III, Kris Kristofferson, Diane Ladd, etc.
112 minutes

Should You See This Film?
This is what a successful indepedent film looks like (even though this was made 20 years before we heard the term): the production values and filmmaking may be a bit rough, but you have a good story, good acting and a director that shows promise. In other words, it’s not a perfect movie. I think the acting and story would appeal to many people here, at least one some level. (I would recommend this confidently to Mitchell, Penny and Grace). For those of you who need more convincing, read on.

If you like watching a good drama focusing on a woman finding her self and the strength to make it on her own, this is a film for you. Add to that a smart-mouthed ten year-old son that she has to raise on her own, various men that come into her life, and youí¶¥ got the general plot of the film. I know the plot may not appeal to some, but plot is not so important because of the good acting and writing.

Like other Scorsese films, there are violent episodes, but, unlike many of his films, there are also humorous (some slapstick) and touching moments as well. Scorsese incorporates these different emotions and moods in a way that feels real and natural. Again, the actors and screenwriter deserve a lot of credit for this.

In a way, this film could easily play on Lifetime Network. I would strongly recommend the film to fans of that channel. But I also believe the quality of filmmaking is higher than almost anything you would see on that channel. This is not a soap-opera, nor a female fantasy, but a quality drama that is both real and entertaining.

Part of the reason I liked this film so much was that it was a surprise. (I wonn’t say in what way, but on the second viewing, I didn’t like it as much as the first time.)

If you liked films like Ruby in Paradise, I think you would like this.

Personal Comments

This is one of those low budget films that I liked because it went against some of my expectations. I expected something darker and more violent. The clip I had seen of the movie was the one where Alice is yelling at her son to write down all of his problems. I thought this would be another Scorsese examination of the dark side of American life. While there are some dark moments, there are also some lighter and even warm moments in the film.

When you think of Scorsese’s films, this one doesní´ come to mind, but maybe it should. Perhaps, the film doesn’t have the intensity or camera work of Taxi Driver or Raging Bull. The camera work and directing seem a little rough, although that may add to the atmosphere of the film. In any event, mainstream audiences may find this the most enjoyable Scorsese film. Ellen Burstyn, as Alice, is the big reason for that, although Diane Ladd was terrific as Flo and Alfred Lutter III, who played Tommy, was also great. Screenwriter, Robert Getchell should also be given credit, too.

The dialogue between Alice and Tommy are funny and warm without being cheesy or cheap.

I especially liked the friendship that developed between Flo and Alice. At first, Alice doesn’t like Flo, but later they develop a bond. The conversation between the two after Alice breaks up with David (Kris Kristofferson) is both poignant, funny and warm. I think Ellen Burstyn, Diane Ladd and the screenwriter deserved at least Academy Award nominations for this film.

I liked the gradual transformation of Alice. I liked the way Scorsese used relationships with three different men to show this progression, too. The first husband was cold, violent and unable to meet Alice’s physical and emotional needs. The next man was a charmer who met her physical needs, but had a violent temperment under that charm. The third man is the one who seems to have what Alice needs. Interestingly, the man does display some violence, but (at least from my pov) the violenceó³°¡nking her sonó³¥¥ms totally appropriate.

I liked the way the filmmakers portray Alice as someone who wants a man, but at the same time struggles to find herself. This is expressed beautifully in a scene between Flo and Alice in the bathroom (probably my favorite in the film).

4 Responses to “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (review)”

  1. Mitchell

    I have always wanted to see this film, and this review makes me want even more to see it.

    As an adult looking back on TV shows I loved as a kid, I sometimes am ashamed of what I thought was entertaining or funny (Three’s Company or Diff’rent Strokes, anyone?). Sometimes, I am reminded of how idiotic Alice could be, but then I remember how very well Linda Lavin played the title character and I take some comfort in knowing that some shows I liked did some pretty good things.

    At its best, the TV show inspired by this film was a character study, and that’s my cuppa tea.

    I’m moving this one to the top of my list.

  2. Reid

    I think you will like the film, Mitchell. Let me know what you think.

  3. Mitchell

    Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

    Good flick. I wish there’d been more stuff in the diner, but then I couldn’t stop thinking of the television show, which I liked a great deal when I was a kid. The Vera character was really, really interesting — much more so than the same character in the series — not as cartoony, and acted wonderfully with mystery and sympathy. I was intrigued by the Mel character, too.

    I didn’t think the Kristoferson character was as interesting as people say, and don’t really get what the appeal was, either for Tommy or for Alice. In fact, this guy doesn’t seem TOO much better than the guy Alice loses at the beginning of the film.

    I could not believe that was Harvey Keitel! Strangely intriguing, his character.

    I found Tommy annoying, which I suppose was the intention.

    Was this film originally a play? It certainly moves like a play, with a scene here and a scene there. I liked the structure, and I generally like this movie, but not perhaps as much as I might have predicted.


  4. Reid

    (potential spoilers)

    I don’t remember the Vera character very much in the film. What did you find interesting about her?

    I agree about the Mel character. There’s something about Vic Tayback that made me want to watch and learn more about him. He has that tough palooka quality, but sensitive and funny, too. I would be interested in seeing him in other roles, and it’s not surprising he was cast in the TV series.

    How did you like the Diane Ladd as Flo? What do you think about my comments above about her?

    Did you read a lot of positive comments about Kristofferson? Perhaps, people could have been impressed with him since he was more of singer than an actor at the time. For me, I think he was more sensitive and caring than the first husband, who not only had a violent streak, but just seemed to be hung up with his own problems and basically ignored her. David (Kristofferson) was sensitive to her needs; he genuinely cared about Tommy. Overall, he’s a decent guy. Does the scene where he hits Tommy make you wonder what his appeal was?

    Keitel seemed strange to me because of he played a Southern character. Plus, he appears to be this charming nice guy, and then we see this rage.

    I’m curious to hear why you didn’t like it as much. It sounds like you had certain expectations that the film didn’t meet.

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