Fried Green Tomatoes was one of the more successful pictures aimed at a female audience of the early 1990s, although it only garnered two Oscar nominations (Best Supporting Actress for Jessica Tandy, Cocoon, and Best Adapted Screenplay). The story, adapted from Fannie Flagg’s novel, and tells the story of Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson, Some Kind of Wonderful and Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker, Red Dragon) and their unconventional “friendship” in Alabama during the first half of the 20th century. Idgie’s sister-in-law(?) Ninny Threadgoode (Tandy) relates the story to Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates, About Schmidt). The film cuts back and forth between Ninny’s tales of Idgie and the effect of the stories on Evelyn, who is a confirmed over-eater and traditional house wife who is completely unappreciated by her husband Ed (Gailard Sartain, Endangered Species). Ninny’s tales inspire Evelyn to take control of her life, asserting herself at home, getting a job as a Mary Kay lady and eating better and getting into better shape. Idgie and Ruth, meanwhile, meet, and become an odd couple, the restrained Southern lady Ruth playing off the wild, drinking, gambling, hunting and fishing Idgie. Ruth helps Idgie get over the death of her older brother Buddy (Chris O’Donnell, Batman and Robin) and Idgie, with the help of her friend Big George (Stan Shaw, Truck Turner) gets Ruth away from her abusive husband Frank (Nick Searcy, Head of State). Frank is not content to sit back and take this, and when he disappears, exactly what happened to him, and who did it, is a mystery whose solution is only revealed in the final tale Ninny tells.
Fried Green Tomatoes is a bit out of the normal range of genres I watch, so it’s hard for me to review it. Certainly the cast gives great performances. The two leads convey excellently what the film is coy about-that they are, in fact, a couple, and not just good friends. O’Donnell steals the few scenes he’s in, and Cicely Tyson (Sounder) and Stan Shaw are very good, although their roles-secondary to the white characters, and which show that they are outcasts as they prefer the unconventional company-there is even a hobo, Smokey Lonesome (Tim Scott, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) to emphasize this-are not the best. The framing device is frustrating at times-Tandy and Bates are good in their scenes, but the contrast between Evelyn’s tiny steps towards empowerment as opposed to the very real danger posed by the much more unconventional choices made by Idgie and Ruth sometimes makes these scenes feel shallow and easy. Still, the film tells a good story, and tells it well, and it’s worth seeing if only for the element that would be at home in a schlock horror film being present in a slice of life Southern drama.