Fried Green Tomatoes: Femme-Driven Tale, Well Played by Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy

Past and present blend in the serio comedy Fried Green Tomatoes, a film that became a sleeper hit with audiences, particularly among women in 1991. Along with “Thelma and Louise,” made in the same year, the picture (re)launched a genre that could be labeled the “new chic flick.”

Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates, right after winning the Oscar for “Misery”) plays an overweight and repressed housewife, who meets and befriends Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy), a remarkably spirited octogenarian.

Though refusing to admit it, Ninny is a permanent resident at a rest home for the elderly, where Evelyn accompanies her husband Ed (Gailard Sartain) on his weekly visits to his gruff aunt.

With plenty of time on her hands, the aged Alabamian begins to enthrall Evelyn with the fascinating story of one of her relatives, Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson), an early proto-feminist, who owns and operates a local caf in Whistle Stop, Alabama. Traumatized as a girl by the violent death of a beloved older brother, Idgie has remained a tomboy loner all her life, taking to the trees when the world around her gets to be too much to bear.

Later on, Idgie rescues her best friend Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker) from her marriage to an abusive man, Frank Bennett (Nick Searcy). Bringing her young baby with her, Ruth moves in with Idgie and the two women begin a thriving business at the caf, with Ruth doing the cooking and Idgie handling the bookwork.

The novel, and the movie, belongs to the tradition of Southern eccentric tales. Problem is, the screen version sanitizes the book, glossing over the lesbian relationship between Idgie and Ruth and underplaying the blatant racism in the trial of a black man for murder.

Engaging if also sentimental and conventional, the story is told in flashbacks and emphasizes the life-lessons learned by the characters, such as Evelyn’s decision to lose weight and take charge of her life.

Nonetheless, producer-turned director Jon Avnet (who produced Tom Cruise’s first star vehicle “Risky Business”) shows particular talent in coaxing great performances from his female-dominated cast, particularly Tandy, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, and Parker.

Based on Fannie Flagg’s popular novel, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Caf,” the film was also nominated for Adapted Screenplay, co-authored by Flagg and Carol Sobieski.

Production values are excellent, especially Geoffrey Simpson’s evocative cinematography and Thomas Newman’s moody score.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Screenplay (Adapted): Fannie Flagg and Carol Sobieski
Supporting Actress: Jessica Tandy

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

The winners were Ted Tally who scripted “The Silence of the Lambs,” and Mercedes Ruehl, who won the Supporting Actress Oscar for Terry Gilliam’s “The Fisher King.”