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‘Fried Green Tomatoes’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 10, 1992


Jon Avnet
Kathy Bates;
Mary Stuart Masterson;
Mary-Louise Parker;
Jessica Tandy;
Cicely Tyson;
Chris O'Donnell;
Stan Shaw;
Gailard Sartain;
Lois Smith
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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A Southern reminiscence with Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy, "Fried Green Tomatoes" is decidedly traveling in the same circles as "Driving Miss Daisy." Real picky folks might even say the good old genre has gotten itself into a rut -- all sassy belles, servile blacks and nostalgia sticky as grits. Lordy, if time don't put a fine patina on most everythin', even Dixie during the Great Depression.

Why the way nursing home resident Ninny Threadgoode (Tandy) remembers it, the family home in the now-shuttered town of Whistle Stop, Ala., was practically Tara. A gifted storyteller, Ninny brings her family history to life for Evelyn Couch (Bates), a bored Birmingham housewife who is uplifted by the octogenarian's tales about an engaging pair of women who ran the Whistle Stop Cafe in the '30s.

In Fannie Flagg's novel "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe," Idgie and Ruth shared a love that dares not speak its name. But in this movie by "Risky Business" producer Jon Avnet, they are not lesbians, just really, really good friends. And Idgie just happens to be fond of brogans. Avnet, debuting as a director, isn't about to let these heroines out of the closet and into the mainstream.

But blond spitfire Mary Stuart Masterson, as Idgie, keeps us guessing. One of Hollywood's best young actresses, she fairly sets off sparks as the tomboy next door, a distaff Huck Finn. Mary-Louise Parker, also currently starring in "Grand Canyon," shimmers pretty as a firefly as Idgie's demure pal Ruth. And the actresses clearly enjoy a deep rapport.

"Fried Green Tomatoes" is actually two good movies in one -- the better one concerns the bittersweet misadventures of Idgie and Ruth, who are bonded by their love for Idgie's late big brother Buddy, who was also Ruth's fiance. A politically correct heroine, Idgie rescues the pregnant Ruth from her abusive husband and the two raise the child together. Later Idgie and her loyal manservant Big George (Stan Shaw) stand trial for murdering the brute.

Meanwhile, back in the '90s, Evelyn is so fired up by Idgie's escapades, she begins to take control of her life. She gives up her candy bars for aerobics, stops trying to please her lug nut of a husband and begins a career as a cosmetics saleswoman. She also becomes as passionately devoted to Ninny as Ruth was to Idgie, again in friendship. (Ninny is, after all, in her eighties.)

Avnet, who wrote the adaptation with Flagg, doubtless played it safe in turning the story into a parable of platonic devotion. And in doing so, he might also have assured the movie's stars the wider audience they deserve. (Bates has already won a Golden Globe nomination for Evelyn's transformation from dutiful wife to self-actualized career woman.) The film also features Cicely Tyson as Ruth's fiercely devoted seamstress, and Flagg sends up a self-help group leader in a cameo role.

A drama about strong, giving, funny women, "Fried Green Tomatoes" seems plucked from the same patch as the play-turned-movie "Steel Magnolias." It's not exactly a successful hybrid, but you could get a craving for it anyway.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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