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USA 1970
Directed by
Bob Rafelson
98 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Five Easy Pieces

A classic of early 1970s American film-making, Five Easy Pieces was one of three films directed, co-written, and co-produced by Bob Rafelson that he made with Jack Nicholson (the other films were the Monkees’ vehicle Head in 1968 which he co-wrote with Nicholson and The King Of Marvin Gardens in 1972) and Nicholson’s first major screen appearance after his break-out appearance in Easy Rider (1968).

Nicholson plays Robert Dupea, a former pianist (the film's title refers to a beginner's guide to the piano) from an upper-class family of classical musicians, slumming it as itinerant worker with a waitress girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black) whom he has managed to get pregnant. Learning that his father (William Challee) has had a serious stroke he returns home to visit his family but finds that he has nothing in common with them any more.

Nicholson plays his character as a snide, wiseacre, rolling stone misfit, a role that he would play many more times. As the scion of an upper-class Boston family he is a lot less plausible and the film particularly suffers from the Zeitgeist-typical idea that his brother’s prim and proper fiancé (Susan Anspach) would find his animal magnetism irresistible (in Carole Eastman's original story and screenplay the Anspach character was an older woman who indeed did not find Robert irresistible. The change was apparently was Rafelson's contribution). Whilst the film suffers then from certain token elements it captures the anti-establishmentarian mood of the period well and the frustration that the younger generation were feeling against middle-class complacency  (it includes a completely unmotivated soirée of educated wankers that sends Nicholson into a physical rage).  Nicholson and Black give winning performances and most memorably it contains the much-quoted scene in which Nicholson tries unsuccessfully to order some toast in a roadside diner.

The film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay (Rafelson and Eastman), Nicholson was nominated for Best Actor, and Black was nominated for Best Supporting Actress but it won none.




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