FINALLY FIVE EASY PIECES
I am embarrassed to admit that I saw Five Easy Pieces (1970) starring Jack Nicholson for the first time just recently. I knew it was about a pianist who rejects his talent to be an Everyman and who has a big-haired low-class Southern girlfriend (Karen Black) and falls for the his brother’s more refined piano-playing fiancee (Susan Anspach) when he returns home to visit his ailing father.
I never had a real interest in seeing the movie and then knew I could not bare to watch when I learned about 13 years ago that my fave Carol Lynley revealed in an interview and confirmed with me that she was offered the role Anspach took. Carol said that she was sent the script and wanted the waitress role, but it was already cast. Since they were only paying scale and she had a daughter to support she passed on it. “Big mistake,” she exclaimed. Yessiree. Nicholson was coming off his starmaking turn in Easy Rider and director Bob Rafaelson was one of the most promising directors of this new Hollywood in 1969. The film was a critical smash receiving a slew of Oscar nominations and a box office hit as well. Carol did Norwood with Glen Campbell and Joe Namath instead. Every actress has their horror stories as they say.
I finally decided to face my fear and recorded it on TCM during Oscar month. I liked the movie a lot but did not love it though I can see why many do. Nicholson’s character was hard to like especially in his treatment of Black. Her character could have just been the annoying white trash loud-mouthed waitress but she played it very sympathetic illiciting compassion. For me, Nicholson’s best moment was in his scene where he breaks down talking to his father suffering from dementia. It was very poignant and touched a cord with me.
While Nichols and Black handle the histrionics wonderfully, Susan Anspach did not impress me in the least. Granted it was a much less flashy role, but for me personally she didn’t have the looks or personality required to make Nicholson’s attraction to her believable and warranted. This is not to say Carol Lynley would have been better in the role. I just did not find Anspach any fun. However, Match Game regular Fannie Flagg as a beer-swilling new mother; Sally Struthers topless as a bowling alley tramp; and True Blood‘s grandma Lois Smith as Nicholson’s homely sister hot for her daddy’s caretaker were lots of fun and it was truly surreal watching them play these roles.
The ending took me by surprise and was bittersweet. However, I liked it and know nowadays they could never do that with focus groups and audiences always demanding the obligatory happy contrived ending.