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‘Thelma & Louise’ (R)By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 24, 1991
In the mythology of movies, "Thelma & Louise" is off the shoulder and ahead of the curve. An exhilarating vehicle for Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, it spins its wheels in a giddy sort of way, then puts the pedal to the mettle, lays rubber and fairly takes wing. It's lucky they're driving a T-Bird.
Thelma (Davis) is a bored housewife with a sexist carpet salesman husband, and Louise (Sarandon) is an overworked waitress with a boyfriend who can't commit. They are fairly choking on the limitations of their female roles when the pair set out on a weekend fishing vacation that turns into a National Lampoon seminar on empowerment. The ladies run into many men along the way -- none of them is Mr. Goodwrench exactly -- and they just get mad as Max.
That's not to say that Thelma and Louise are male-bashers or that the movie is a load of spiteful feminism. A first screenplay by Callie Khouri, this liberating adventure has a woman's perspective, yes, but one that aims to give moviegoers of both sexes an ungirdled good time. This is one chick movie that isn't about to whine, bitch or back-seat-drive. Ridley Scott, the director who gave us Ripley in "Alien," wouldn't allow it, and for that matter, neither would Davis or Sarandon.
As in buddy movies immemorial, this one works on the tension inherent between its odd couple. When their journey begins, Louise is the organized one in charge of getting them there and Thelma is the scatterbrain who gets them into trouble when she insists on stopping for a drink at a roadside honky-tonk. A drunken dance-floor flirtation turns suddenly ugly, and in a twinkling they are on the lam. And with every turn in the ribbon of highway, they grow and change. By the time they arrive at their final destination, they have shed their weaknesses for strengths.
The bad and the good news in all this is that they've become partners instead of companions, a gal-pal variation on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It's hard not to enjoy this freewheeling journey, but it's even harder not to be troubled by the inappropriately dire ending. This borrowed ploy fails the characters, the movie and the audience. It's as if Khouri and Scott ran up against a roadblock.
Anyhow, this is Scott's best film since "Blade Runner." Known for his artistry, he turns a movie into a symphony for the eye. But here, the red dirt and wide expanses of the American West serve less as a canvas for the director than a backdrop for these richly realized desperadoes. Davis is as dazzling as high beams on a dark night, and Sarandon fiercely hard-boiled as her ever-ready foil.
They are backed by a brilliant male supporting cast that includes Christopher McDonald as Thelma's husband, Michael Madsen as Louise's Peter Pan of a boyfriend, Brad Pitt as a hitchhiker whose backside stirs up Thelma's libido, and Harvey Keitel as a sensitive cop.
If "The Witches of Eastwick" marked a turn against faltering feminism, "Thelma & Louise" signals the end of the detour. Bumper-sticker sassy and welcome as a rest stop, this is one sweet ragtop ride, worth hitching if you don't mind getting your hair blown.
"Thelma & Louise" is rated R for sensuality and language.
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