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Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore Movie Poster Image
Gritty '70s dramedy has some violence, strong language.
  • PG
  • 1974
  • 112 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

A woman's hopes and dreams are just as important as a man's, and she deserves the opportunity to pursue them however she wants. She should also be free to live her life and pursue fulfillment however she wants.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Alice is a good role model for bravely making big changes to her life in order to pursue her dreams. She doesn't necessarily know what she's doing, or whether things will turn out OK, but she knows she has to keep trying to do her best for herself and her son. Alice models strong bonds of friendship with Bea and then with Flo. Men don't fare very well, with all three of Alice's love interests becoming violent when they're angry. Most male characters treat women as objects or property. Eleven-year-old Tommy is spoiled, whiny, and disrespectful.

Violence

A truck driver after a crash is vaguely seen with a bloody head and blood dripping down the front of the truck under a shattered windshield. A few fights with swatting, slapping, yelling, throwing things, throwing people to the floor, and turning over furniture. One violent outburst is especially terrifying with breaking glass, blood dripping from a cut, and threats to kill. A man spanks a child, breaks things against walls, and knocks over furniture. A child mentions being made to bend over while being whipped with a belt.

Sex

Some kissing, caressing, spooning in bed, cuddling, and implied sex. Audrey mentions that her mother "turns tricks." Parts of a bra visible while a woman changes clothes.

Language

Frequent strong language from adults and kids includes "s--t," "bitch," "Christ," "ass," "damn," "hell," "sucks," "nuts," "balls," "t--ts" (on a cow), and "holy hell." Some sexual innuendo and verbal hostility. Mel and Flo spar verbally in a good-natured way with lots of sexual innuendo that would be considered harassment today.

Consumerism

Lots of Coca-Cola products prominent, such as soda cans, signs, and a logoed work uniform shirt. Incidental alcohol bottles and signs in bars. A prominent jar of Skippy and a bottle of Kahlua in the foreground.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several scenes take place in bars, and Alice works as a singer in a bar with lots of background drinking. A man gives Alice scotch on the rocks during the daytime to calm her down and make her troubles disappear; she has a few sips. Some tipsy behavior between a couple drinking at home. A child asks another if he wants to "get high on Ripple," which is a discontinued wine-cooler type of alcoholic beverage. A man has a can of beer in hand while planning to take a child horseback riding. Lots of characters smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is the inspiration for the popular '70s TV series Alice. But, not surprising given that it's directed by Martin Scorsese, this movie's much darker and heavier than the comedy series. Rated PG before the introduction of PG-13, the movie's mature themes, scenes of domestic violence, strong language, and adult situations make it best for teens and up. Violence includes slapping, kicking, swatting, spanking, and throwing and breaking furniture and household objects, and a couple of incidents show blood. Strong language from kids and adults includes "s--t," "bitch," "ass," and sexual innuendo. Scenes in bars show background drinking and smoking; many characters smoke cigarettes. One scene shows tipsy behavior. Some kissing, cuddling, and being in bed together, implying sex had taken place. Themes explore a woman's right and need to explore and fulfill her own happiness on her own terms.

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What's the story?

ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE because she (Ellen Burstyn) decides, after her husband dies, to leave New Mexico with her 11-year-old son Tommy and go back to California, where she grew up. Along the way she stops in Tucson to try and find a job so she can earn enough money to make it all the way home. There she meets and starts dating Ben (Harvey Keitel). It doesn't take long for Ben's dark side to make an appearance, and Alice and Tommy end up fleeing Tuscon in fear. Next stop is Phoenix, where the job search continues. Unable to find work as a lounge singer (the only job she's ever had), she settles for waitressing at a diner where she meets and befriends a colorful, oddball crew. One of the diner's handsome regulars, David (Kris Kristofferson), sets his eye on Alice. Does he have a dark side, too, or can he and Alice build a life together?

Is it any good?

Ellen Burstyn won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in this movie, and it's solid work; unfortunately, a fantastic cast and a too-rare female protagonist are the best this movie has to offer. A number of scenes either don't make sense or aren't effective at what they're meant to convey. Several cuts lead to a new scene that doesn't logically follow or flow from what came before. The story doesn't end; the movie just stops at what feels like a random moment in Alice's life. Scorsese's camera work, with lots of movement and bumpy hand-held shots, reminds the viewer that they're watching a movie rather than mirroring Alice's feelings about her life and her place in the world.

In its time, 1974, it was an important movie not just because it had a woman protagonist, but also because it took such an in-depth look at Alice's life, her setbacks and struggles, as well as her hopes for herself and her son. But now it's unlikely to hold the interest of an audience that doesn't remember or thoroughly understand how women's roles in society were changing in those years, which is really key to understanding Alice and her struggles. That being said, aspiring actors and fans of the craft will definitely feel like they got a master class from it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the strong language in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Is it a big deal, or is it how people really talk? Is it different if kids are doing the swearing versus adults? Why or why not?

  • How have social and economic opportunities for women changed since 1974? What were Alice's expectations for her life and her relationships? Are they any different from yours? Why was pursuing her dreams so difficult for her?

  • What about our perceptions of feminism? Is this a feminist movie? What does "feminist" mean to you?

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