|Five Easy Pieces|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bob Rafelson|
|Screenplay by||Adrien Joyce|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|September 12, 1970|
|Box office||$18.1 million|
Five Easy Pieces is a 1970 American drama film written by Carole Eastman (as Adrien Joyce) and Bob Rafelson, and directed by Rafelson. The film stars Jack Nicholson, with Karen Black, Susan Anspach, Ralph Waite, and Sally Struthers in supporting roles.
The film tells the story of surly oil rig worker Bobby Dupea, whose rootless blue-collar existence belies his privileged youth as a piano prodigy. When Bobby learns that his father is dying, he goes home to see him, taking along his waitress girlfriend.
Bobby Dupea works in an oil field in Kern County, California with his friend Elton, who has a wife and a baby son. Bobby spends most of his time with his waitress girlfriend Rayette, who has dreams of singing country music; or in the company of Elton, with whom he bowls, gets drunk, and has sex with other women. Bobby has not told Elton that he is a former classical pianist who comes from an upper-class family of musicians.
Rayette gets pregnant and Elton is arrested on an old warrant for having robbed a gas station. Bobby quits his job and goes to Los Angeles where his sister Partita, also a pianist, is making a recording. Partita tells him that their father, from whom Bobby is estranged, has suffered two strokes. She urges Bobby to return to the family home in Washington state.
Rayette threatens to kill herself if Bobby leaves her, so he reluctantly asks her along. Driving north, they pick up two women headed for Alaska, one of whom is obsessed with "filth". The four of them are thrown out of a restaurant when Bobby gets into an argument with a waitress who refuses to accommodate his meal order, which is not on the menu but is not for anything special.
Embarrassed by Rayette's lack of polish, Bobby registers her in a motel before proceeding to the family home on an island in Puget Sound. He finds Partita giving their father a haircut, but the old man seems completely oblivious to him. At dinner Bobby meets Catherine Van Oost, a young pianist engaged to his amiable brother Carl, a violinist. Despite personality differences, Catherine and Bobby are immediately attracted to each other and they later have sex in her room.
Rayette runs out of money at the motel and comes to the Dupea estate unannounced. Her presence creates an awkward situation, but when pompous family friend Samia ridicules her, Bobby comes to her defense. Storming from the room in search of Catherine, he discovers his father's male nurse giving Partita a massage. Now more agitated, he picks a fight with the very strong nurse, who knocks him to the floor.
Bobby tries to persuade Catherine to go away with him, but she declines, telling him she believes he does not love himself, or anything at all. After trying to talk to his unresponsive father, Bobby leaves with Rayette, who makes a playful sexual advance that he angrily rejects. Shortly into the trip, when Rayette goes into a gas station for coffee, he gives her his wallet and abandons her, hitching a ride on a truck headed north.
The opening credits list the five classical piano pieces played in the film and referenced in the title. Pearl Kaufman is credited as the pianist.
The film opened to positive reviews. It holds an 87% "Certified Fresh" rating on online review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 45 reviews, with an average rating of 8.4/10. The critics' consensus states: "An important touchstone of the New Hollywood era, Five Easy Pieces is a haunting portrait of alienation that features one of Jack Nicholson's greatest performances."
The title of Five Easy Pieces refers not to the women its hero makes along the road, for there are only three, but to a book of piano exercises he owned as a child. The film, one of the best American films, is about the distance between that boy, practicing to become a concert pianist, and the need he feels 20 years later to disguise himself as an oil-field rigger. When we sense the boy, tormented and insecure, trapped inside the adult man, Five Easy Pieces becomes a masterpiece of heartbreaking intensity.... The movie is joyously alive to the road life of its hero. We follow him through bars and bowling alleys, motels and mobile homes, and we find him rebelling against lower-middle-class values even as he embraces them. In one magical scene, he leaps from his car in a traffic jam and starts playing the piano on the truck in front of him; the scene sounds forced, described this way, but Rafelson and Nicholson never force anything, and never have to. Robert Eroica Dupea is one of the most unforgettable characters in American movies.
John Simon criticized Five Easy Pieces for its pretentiousness and oversimplification but said if anything saved the film from triviality, were the performances of the actors especially those of Karen Black, Lois Smith, and Billy Green Bush.
The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jack Nicholson), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Karen Black). Nicholson lost to George C. Scott, and was nominated several more times before winning for the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
|43rd Academy Awards||Best Picture||Bob Rafelson and Richard Wechsler||Nominated|
|Best Actor||Jack Nicholson||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Karen Black||Nominated|
|Best Original Screenplay||Adrien Joyce and Bob Rafelson||Nominated|
|28th Golden Globe Awards||Best Motion Picture - Drama||Bob Rafelson and Richard Wechsler||Nominated|
|Best Actor||Jack Nicholson||Nominated|
|Best Director||Bob Rafelson||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Karen Black||Won (Tied with Maureen Stapleton for Airport)|
|Best Screenplay||Adrien Joyce and Bob Rafelson||Nominated|
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection in November 2010 as part of the box set America Lost and Found: The BBS Story. It includes audio commentary featuring director Bob Rafelson and interior designer Toby Rafelson (originally recorded for a Criterion laserdisc); Soul Searching in "Five Easy Pieces", a 2009 video piece with Rafelson; BBStory, a 2009 documentary about the BBS era, with Rafelson, actors Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, and Ellen Burstyn, and directors Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom, among others; and audio excerpts from a 1976 AFI interview with Rafelson.
A famous scene from the film takes place in a roadside restaurant where Bobby tries to get a waitress to bring him a side order of toast with his breakfast. The waitress refuses, stating that toast is not offered as a side item, despite the diner's offering a chicken salad sandwich on toast.
Bobby appeals to both logic and common sense, but the waitress adamantly refuses to break with the restaurant's policy of only giving customers what is printed in the menu. Ultimately, Bobby orders both his breakfast and the chicken salad sandwich on toast, telling the waitress to bring the sandwich to him without mayonnaise, butter, lettuce, or chicken, culminating in Bobby's responding to the waitress' incredulity at his order to "hold the chicken" with "I want you to hold it between your knees!" The waitress then indignantly orders them to leave, and Nicholson knocks the glasses of water off the table with a sweep of his arm.
Thirty years later, Nicholson performed a scene in the movie About Schmidt that drew from this scene; it was cut from the film but is available as a Deleted Scene in the DVD release. Nicholson's character in About Schmidt, an emotionally downtrodden retiree, in contrast, humbly accepts the waitress's "no substitutions" rule.