Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) – Film Review
Director: Robert Altman
Cast: Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black
by Sarah Morgan
It has one of the longest titles in mainstream cinema, but Robert Altman’s 1982 comedy-drama deserves to be known for more than that.
At the time the film was made, the director was suffering something of a lull. It’s unfair to call it a slump because that suggests he had gone off the boil, when in fact, his films were as interesting as ever, just not successful at the box office or, in some cases, with critics.
As a result, he had sold his production company and was concentrating largely on the stage. ‘Jimmy Dean’ was the first of several films he made that were based on plays; he had already directed the Broadway version and the central cast repeated their roles for the big screen.
The story takes place in a cheap but cheerful Woolworths store in a small Texan town. It’s run by Juanita and staffed by Sissy and Mona, who have been there for decades.
When we first meet them, they are preparing to host a party to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of their hero, James Dean. Several of their old school friends, who were part of their Disciples of James Dean fan club, are returning for the festivities.
Those who turn up are the brash Stella Mae, the quiet and pregnant Edna Louise, and the mysterious Joanna, who is a stranger but seems oddly familiar.
The tale then flashes back and forth to tell the women’s story, in particular that of the simple and perhaps delusional Mona, who claims to have had a child with Dean while working as an extra on the film Giant, which was shot nearby.
The truth about all their lives eventually unfolds in a beautifully acted film; perhaps their familiarity with their characters, after playing them on stage, helped the actors.
Sandy Dennis and Karen Black were already established names by this time; Black is particularly good in a potentially difficult role.
Kathy Bates also pops up as Stella Mae, who could have been one-dimensional in other hands but manages to give an initially unpleasant character hidden depths, while Marta Heflin is simply heartbreaking as Edna Louise.
But it’s Cher who steals the show as Sissy, the local tart with a heart. She was at the very start of her acting career in 1982, and seeing her at the time must have been something of a revelation.
Special features include interviews with the editor and production designer, but really, the movie needs nothing else to give it a boost – it’s perfectly capable of standing on its own merit.
‘Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean’ is released on Blu-ray by Eureka, £19.99