Fried Green Tomatoes

This film is so frustrating. It's not just the lesbian erasure or the caricaturization of racism, it's that it the nearness of it to something good. Great, even. Simply dropping those major problems by making the queer subtext explicit or giving depth to the black characters and their stories and showing at least some of the complexities of racism--that is, it's more than good white saviors and Klansmen in this world, that white supremacy is more dangerous than that--would make this film much better, but even then, there are narrative flaws and a fat shaming storyline and a problematic reference to Ninny's neurodivergent son that just makes his invisible presence a prop. And all of those things are unpleasant to watch, but.

But what's frustrating is how goddamned sexy it is. Parker and Masterson have strong chemistry together, and the interplay of their faces and their laughter and their tender performances with the edible imagery the film employs every time they come close to sex is unbearable, because you know how goddamned sexy this would be if it just fucking admitted they were gay. I'm not talking some objectifying pornographic fan-fiction alternative universe; I'm just saying this could have been something more powerful if it were filmed almost exactly the same, but with just a little more explicit queerness. Honestly, I wouldn't change one thing about the honey seduction scene, but even one romantic kiss would give a whole new layer to this film. As it is, the subtextual lesbian romance is its strongest feature. (And greatest source of frustration, right down to the stereotypical lesbian romance ending.)

That subtext gives more power to the "friendship" between Idgie and Ruth. Though filmic friendships between women tend to have an emotional depth that the stereotypical movie buddy flick, the hints that theirs is a queer romance make this one stand out. It turns a food fight into foreplay, and the scene where Ruth threatens to leave has so much more meaning. The declaration in court and the unspoken story of how Idgie helped raise Ruth's child and every other aspect of their friendship is shaped around the understanding that this is a quietly beautiful romance. More, it also shapes other aspects of their characterization: their compassion for other oppressed people is more powerful if they are also people who are subject to oppression. It changes from almost condescending compassion to solidarity, or comes close to it (see above frustrations).

And that's how the queer subtext is the film's strongest feature. It's the key to understanding Ruth and Idgie's kindness. They are flipsides of a coin. Ruth is gentleness and direct compassion; Idgie is the hard kind of good, the sort that fights. You don't have to be hard to be strong--I've personally known far too many gentle souls that stand up to the nastiest things capitalism throws at us and maintain their gentleness and kindness--but there's an important place in this world for those who fight tooth and nail just to be good no matter what. It's unfair that the film doesn't explore these two mirror images as much as they deserve, instead focusing more on Idgie and her defiance. (Analyzing the reverend's own sacrifice as a characterization of Idgie's goodness and his perception of it is a whole other essay, but suffice to say I think she deserves better than that particular association if we assume the typical sort of Alabama revival Christianity. As a representation of the fabric of the community, however, it's more to my liking--the reverend understands what Ninny says at the end, that the Whistlestop is the heart of the community. He acts to preserve it because like the Whistlestop, the church is an integral part of the fabric thereof.)

My roommate and I didn't bother to hide our tears as the ducks flew away with the lake. We're both gay old ladies ourselves, and watching where Idgie's hard kindness interplays with Ruth's compassionate sweetness in another moment of love so rich in tone and emotion that I would not change a thing, even to see them kiss as lovers, was more than I think either of us could bear without shedding tears of sorrow and catharsis. In a better world, there would not also have been a bit of frustration in that moment as well.

Kathleen's VHS Collection 2017: 21/100

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