Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) directed by Jon Avnet, originally written by Fannie Flagg, is the story of close friends, Idgie and Ruth’s, adventures in Whistle Stop, Alabama. The story is revealed to us, through narrated flashbacks, by Ninny, an 82 year old rest home resident who has befriended an unhappy housewife, Evelyn Couch.
The title of the film – Fried Green Tomatoes was truncated from the book title Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Whistle Stop is the shanty town, where the story is set, that has grown around the train tracks that run through it. The cafe, well known for its barbecue ribs and legendary special sauce, is run by Idgie and Ruth who serve the white churchgoing townsfolk and the needy of all races – the fact, of which, causes them much trouble.
This film is truly a sign of its times. It is set in 1930s (Jim Crow) rural Alabama, highlighting the racial and social inequities of that era, though its approach to lesbian relationships is more subtle. Such a genre can be extremely challenging and confronting due to the numerous forms of terrible injustice embedded within the society portrayed. Some might argue that a story placed in such a setting isn’t worth their time, but I think just the opposite is true. We can appreciate great stories, characters and values that come to life in such storytelling. The story is an emotional rollercoaster – I was in floods of tears almost immediately – but we are also treated to moments of comic relief, heartwarming scenes and a thread of mystery.
Evelyn Couch, a quintessentially Southern woman from Alabama is the audience of Ninny’s grand tales. Their friendship becomes one of the happy accidents in the film and as the story progresses, we see Evelyn’s character develop. Often in flashback films, I am less interested in scenes in the present day as I am invested in the flashback story unfolding. However, Evelyn’s personal growth throughout this film is uplifting. Evelyn becomes inspired by the characters in Ninny’s stories and as she slowly gains more self-respect, she finally has the confidence to live authentically.
Ninny’s tales of Idgie and Ruth and their inseparable “friendship” are compelling. These two characters are bonded by their kindred spirits as well as a series of shared traumatic experiences. Through a series of extraordinary and difficult events – witnessing the gruesome death of Idgie’s brother, Idgie’s desperate rescue of Ruth from an abusive marriage, and the violent threats and actions of the Klu Klux Klan who actively discourage Idgie and Ruth’s kindness and care for their black friends and neighbours – it is clear why the pair are forever connected. Despite these difficult aspects of the film, there are some wholesome and playful scenes and some warm moments in which we understand that their closeness may be more intimate than it appears.
It is interesting to note the decision of the director to underplay the lesbian relationship. The author, who had initially been assisting with the screenplay but who bowed out due to differences of vision, and both actresses had wanted to explore the topic of sexuality more fully. However, in the early 1990’s, there were few mainstream films that explicitly addressed sexuality and Jon Avnet settled for longing looks, and intimate food fights to flavour the story with platonic intimacy.
I think this film is important, because it proves how far we have come since both the setting depicted and Tomatoes’ ‘90s release. Yet, it still remains relevant to issues we continue to battle today. Our society has not completely overcome these obstacles, and there is still work to be done, but perhaps we can appreciate that we are marginally less ‘twisted’ than previous era’s.
“Pulled Pork” Jackfruit
1 can young jackfruit
1 small red onion
1 tbsp oil
3 cloves garlic
1 veggie stock cube
½ cup vegan BBQ sauce (I used Culley’s)
1 tbsp paprika
Culley’s creamy coleslaw dressing