Saturday, June 9, 2012

#663. Alice's Restaurant (1969)

Directed By: Arthur Penn

Starring: Arlo Guthrie, Patricia Quinn, James Broderick

Tag line: "Every Generation Has A Story To Tell"

Trivia: Arlo Guthrie's costume in the party scene is meant to be the King of Cups from a pack of tarot cards

Inspired by Arlo Guthrie’s song of the same name (which, in turn, was based on the singer / songwriter's real-life experiences, including his arrest for littering and the effect it had on his eligibility for the U.S. Draft), Alice's Restaurant stars Guthrie as...well...himself, a teenage musician whose personal brand of free expression doesn't always sit well with “normal” society. 

After being turned away by his college, Arlo travels to Stockbridge, Mass., to drop in on good friends Alice (Pat Quinn) and Ray (James Broderick), a married couple who dedicate their time and energy to helping wayward youths. In fact, Arlo arrives just as the two are moving into an abandoned church they recently purchased, which is large enough to house the ever-growing number of young people who've come looking for a place to call home. 

At first, life is good in Stockbridge, even for Shelly (Michael McClanathan), a confused teen recently released from drug rehab who Ray and Alice treat as if he was their own son. But it isn't long before anger and jealousy rears its ugly head, leading to a tragedy that may just destroy this little corner of paradise.

Arlo Guthrie might be the star of Alice’s Restaurant, but at the heart of the film are the characters Ray, Alice, and Shelly, played to perfection (respectively) by Broderick, Quinn, and McClanathan. Having set up a commune to serve as an alternative to society's more traditional institutions (such as family and school), Alice and Ray take on the role of mother and father for the kids in their care, yet the two have ulterior motives for surrounding themselves with runaway teens and dropouts. 

For Ray, it's all about staying young, living his life with no responsibilities. We see this when Alice tries to get him to help out at the restaurant she has opened up, which Ray sometimes refuses to do because it will interfere with his having fun. There are even moments when Ray acts like a spoiled child, like when he grows angry and spiteful after Shelly beats him in a motorcycle race. 

As for Alice, the benefits are clearly sexual; not only does she flirt openly with Arlo and some of the others, but on at least one occasion she sleeps with Shelly. 

In the end, neither are able to help Shelly, whose continued unhappiness causes him to “fall off the wagon” and return to drugs. Both Alice and Ray, who truly love Shelly, are devastated by this turn of events, yet neither are quick to acknowledge their role in his downfall.

Made at a time when many young people were searching for an escape from the mundane, Alice’s Restaurant points out that , while the grass may appear greener on the other side of the fence, it still needs its share of manure to grow.

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