Murder! Cannibalism! A teen heartthrob gets run over by a train! The living dead! (OK, not actually a zombie, but Jessica Tandy.) And here you probably thought this was a chick flick.
Fried Green Tomatoes was certainly promoted as a chick flick. Print ads and TV reviewers alike warned prospective viewers to take a box of Kleenex to the theater with them. It stars Jessica Tandy, whose presence is always a good indication that the movie will be a chick flick. And it has long, drawn out death scenes and food fights and women realizing that there's more to life than being married, all indications that it is a chick flick. So it probably is a chick flick.
But it is also a pretty good movie too. It's well acted and has two interesting plot lines.
Part of the movie takes place in the present, as Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) tries to spice up her life and her marriage. She meets an old lady at a nursing home (Jessica Tandy) who tells her stories from the past. These stories, all tales of the Threadgoode family, make up most of the movie.
Guys, want to have some fun with this film? Tell your girlfriend/wife, and any other females you can find, that you want to see this film. When you see it, watch as they, and any other male-oriented women within line of sight of the TV, ooh, aah, and drool over young, Chris O'Donnell (an unknown when the movie first came out). Don't get mad. Don't get exasperated. Encourage them! You can do this because you know what we are about to tell you: About ten minutes in to the film, young Chris gets run over by a train. Ha! We love it! A big train, too. We bet it hurt and stuff. Go train, go! We could almost see George Clooney in a rubber suit standing nearby thinking "Yeah, I could save him, but I've got that, you know, thing, and I should really be going."
In any case, it turns out the death of Chris' character, Buddy Threadgoode, has a profound effect on his sister Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson plays her as an adult), who lives in the town of Whistle Stop, Alabama. She grows up bitter and without any good role models, and as a young lady she hangs out at the local gambling den. Out of desperation Idgie's parents ask an old friend of Idgie's to talk to her. This friend, Ruth (Mary Louise Parker), gets to know Idgie again and the two become companions, but Ruth doesn't really succeed in changing Idgie's ways very much. Ruth then gets married to the man she was expected to marry, a man who can provide for Ruth's aging mother. Unfortunately, her new husband, Frank, beats her, and as soon as her aging mother dies the pregnant Ruth moves out on him and moves in with Idgie. Frank threatens to get his child back.
Time passes, and Frank turns up dead (or rather, doesn't turn up at all) and Idgie is the prime suspect for his apparent murder. Not that any of this should worry you, because without a body or any evidence that Idgie was involved, it's unlikely that she'll be convicted of anything. The real story is that of the relationship between Ruth and Idgie, although the exact nature of that relationship is never clear.
This story is framed by a series of scenes in the 1990's, wherein Evelyn visits Ninny Threadgoode at a nursing home and hears the stories about Idgie and Ruth. This inspires her to change her own attitude and life for the better, especially where her marriage is concerned. It's a tired old trick, but in Fried Green Tomatoes, it works really well.
Impressive performances are turned in all around: The Marys Stuart Masterson and Louise-Parker are perfectly placed as Idgie and Ruth, respectively. Their initially tense reunion some years after Buddy's death and the eventual development of their friendship is probably the most rewarding portion of the film. Tandy, of course, is a delight as her usual spry self, and Bates really knows how to embarrass herself on screen for the benefit of real women like her. (Her Saran-Wrap scene alone is worth the price of renting the tape.)
Fried Green Tomatoes is indeed a chick flick, but at least it's a well-made chick flick. If you're susceptible to tear-jerking, you'll definitely want your hankie (we'll just say the ending isn't perfectly happy), but it's got plenty of uplifting scenes to push your emotional buttons the other direction, too. All that, and Chris O'Donnell gets run over by a train.