Five Easy Pieces
Gritty '70s drama about alienation has sex, cursing.
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Five Easy Pieces
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Five Easy Pieces is director Bob Rafelson's influential 1970 exploration of alienation that pits upper-middle class refinement against blue-collar authenticity as if the two were on opposite sides of a morality scale. The movie is frankly sexual as the protagonist is a predatory and smarmy womanizer with no scruples or loyalties, who tends to justify his amorality and selfishness by accusing others of pretentiousness and dishonesty. Breasts are briefly seen during a sex scene. Adults smoke cigarettes and drink, sometimes to excess. Bobby pushes himself on his brother's girlfriend even though she'd told him she is not interested. She changes her mind when he kisses her and they have sex. It's likely that only older and more mature teens will be interested. Cursing includes "f--k," "s--t," "c--ksucker," etc.
An honest study in flawed human nature
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What's the Story?
FIVE EASY PIECES tracks Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson) and his growing discontent as he escapes his upper-middle class, educated background working on a California oil rig. Bobby, a former musical prodigy, affects a good ol' boy accent and drinks too much while living with Rayette (Karen Black), a waitress who vainly craves his love and approval. While bowling with her, Bobby picks up two other women. When he learns his father is ill, he heads to the family's Washington state property bringing his disdain, sarcasm, and disrespect to the brother and sister living there with the disabled father. He two-times his girlfriend again, this time seducing his brother's fiancé (Susan Anspach), yet rails about the dishonesty and falseness of his family and their friends. Heading home with Rayette, who is pregnant, he ditches her at a gas station, hopping a ride with a lumber truck.
Is It Any Good?
This 1970 movie vividly showcased the gritty talent of Jack Nicholson, and it was an outstanding example of a new kind of independent, non-studio filmmaking. The movie was a reflection of the influence of disaffected youth on a changing American reality and it's difficult to convey the refreshing departure from the usual that Five Easy Pieces represented. The film's look, freewheelingly photographed by Laszlo Kovacs, brings the landscape into the cast of characters and it has been imitated so often that today's viewers may find the movie dated. Bobby's confusion and anger echoed the generalized sentiments of a nation of young people bent on doing things differently, and Bobby was at least asking some questions, even if for the wrong reasons.
The movie's missteps are obvious today as it awkwardly sets up devotion to art -- an ordinary feature of Bobby's parents' home -- as a cartoonish sham that only honest and direct people like Bobby are capable of exposing. The film's greatest flaw is its ham-handed agenda -- if the world Bobby came from is a silly pretentious cartoon then Bobby's anger is legitimized. Young viewers today will more likely see Bobby as an over-privileged elitist who is just plain angry, not at pretension, but at everything. He likes to show up for his dangerous job on the oil rigs drunk and is outraged when the boss sends him home. He gets angry at his blue-collar friend when the man has the audacity to compare his trailer park life to Bobby's. The movie's problem is its own pretension. It seems to champion those who challenge authority but its most iconic line comes when Bobby scathingly tells a surly server at a truck stop to "hold" the chicken salad "between your knees." Yet we don't feel much like applauding when the big bad authority Bobby brings tumbling down is just a weary old waitress who's been standing on her feet too long to be cordial. Nicholson was 33 when he played Bobby. Many teens will probably wonder what an old guy like him is going on about.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how Five Easy Pieces questions how much responsibility people should take for their own failures in life. Why do you think Bobby is so angry?
Why does Bobby disdain his family? Does the movie explain? Is his unhappiness connected to his family?
Does it seem as if the movie sets Bobby up as a hero who confronts people for their dishonesty? How does the movie treat Bobby's own dishonesty, disloyalty, and irresponsibility?
Do the movie's themes still resonate today? Why or why not?
- In theaters: September 28, 1970
- On DVD or streaming: June 30, 2015
- Cast: Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Susan Anspach
- Director: Bob Rafelson
- Studio: Critereon Collection
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for sexuality/nudity and some language
- Last updated: February 26, 2023
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