Filmsite Movie Review
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Elton's mobile home trailer is the setting for the next scene, where the foursome is glued to the old b/w TV set watching the classic comedy You Can't Take It With You (1938). Rayette is helping to take care of Elton and Stoney's young infant, prompting a smiling, down-home Elton to suggest to her and Bobby: "You ought to get yourself one of them little things." Obviously discomforted by babies, Bobby is ready to leave and signals to Rayette.

The next day at work during a lunch break, Elton thinks it wouldn't be "so bad" if Rayette was pregnant, and then spills the "little secret" that Rayette had told him - that she is pregnant! Bobby scowls at the thought of enjoying permanent married life with Rayette (with children), when Elton encourages him to accept middle-class values, including a wife and kids: ("Somewhere along the line, you even get to likin' the whole idea").

Bobby hurls his sandwich away and dumps his coffee cup while he savagely lambasts Elton for lecturing to him:

Bobby: I'm sitting here, listening to some cracker asshole who lives in a trailer park compare his life to mine! Keep on telling me about the good life, Elton, because it makes me puke.
Elton: If you're sayin' you think you're somethin' better than what I am, now that's somethin' else. But I can't say much of someone who would run off and leave a woman in a situation like this and feel easy about it. And that's all I have to say.
Bobby: Well, I'm glad that's all you gotta say, Elton, because I'm about as goddamn tired of your mouth as I am working on this goddamn job.

Bobby grabs his jacket and his lunch container and storms off - walking towards his parked car. Elton yells after him: "S--t ass!" As Bobby sulks away, he shouts to the rig manager that he is quitting - a recklessly impulsive decision. The employer snaps back: "I don't give a damn what you do. I'm glad to get rid of both of you dumb guys."

As Bobby turns around, he sees Elton pursued by two men, and he gives chase to support his friend. Although he is being wrestled to the ground, Elton tells Bobby to back off: "Don't do that, Bob. Don't mix in. They've got the right, Bob, it's the law." Bobby is fist-punched to the ground, and the two are handcuffed (but Bobby is released). Elton is accused of robbing a filling station down in the Indian nation and jumping bail: "I just got wild and jumped my bail. They come running at me a whole year later. Isn't that somethin'? Hey, tell Stoney for me, ya hear?" On his knees, an astonished Bobby watches as Elton is driven away.

In the next scene, suit-and-tie-wearing Bobby is driving (and drinking from a can of beer) on the 101 Freeway in Los Angeles. He enters an LA recording studio, where his nervous-looking sister Partita "Tita" Dupea (Lois Smith) hunches over a grand piano keyboard during the manufacturing of a record. She is playing the film's second piece - (2) Bach's Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue, demonstrating that she is another classical concert pianist. During a recording session, she intently plays as a recording engineer monitors the sound, although she begins to sing-along with a discordant and out-of-key tone, and ruins the recording. The annoyed engineer complains: "There she goes again," and tells her: "I'd like to remind you again that this is not an opera or a musical comedy." Tita breaks into tears after hugging her black sheep brother Bobby (she calls him "Robert Eroica"), and says embarrassingly: "I can't look at you...You always do this to me." Bobby briefly checks out the sound quality of the piano - "a very special CB 275" with "absolutely no objectionable idiosyncracies."

She warns that she has to have a serious talk with him. He learns that eleven months earlier, his brother Carl permanently sprained his neck and is wearing a neck brace, following a bicycle accident (on his way to the village post office) when he ran into a jeep. Then, she announces that their patriarchal father is seriously ill and dying following two strokes, and has suffered paralyzed vocal chords. Bobby's first reaction is denial: "Don't tell me about this," and he stands up and walks away. His sister lovingly advises: "Don't you think it's right that you should see him at least once?" He reluctantly agrees, but declines an invitation to join her, and instead plans to drive up himself to the family home on Puget Sound in Washington State. He adds: "Maybe I'll go into Canada after. I'm not gonna stay long, Tita, you know, one week at the most." As she walks her brother out at the end of a brief break that has come to an end (and has been announced over the impersonal intercom by the taunting engineer), thereby interfering with their meaningful conversation, she tells him: "I want to talk to you about so many things."

In the next jarring scene, Bobby (wearing a "TRIUMPH" motorcycle T-shirt) is in Betty's apartment, and they are in the throes of making violent and wild love to each other - filmed with a hand-held camera. Her nude body grabs onto him as he carries her and spins around the room, and she screeches and gasps. They fall exhausted onto the bed as Betty climaxes, and her screams subside.

Shortly later, Bobby enters Rayette's house, where Tammy Wynette's sad song "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" plays on the stereo. He finds her in the bedroom, stone-faced, quiet, and lying in bed with her back against the wall, staring at the opposite wall. Sarcastic and unpleasant to her, he is skeptical of her manipulative sincerity: "I got your point. I hope you didn't strain yourself gettin' in here before I hit the back door." He begins packing for his trip back home to see his sick father, for two or three weeks. Rayette turns away and snorts in disbelief: "You'll be gone, period." Their relationship appears over, when he tells her that he has not broken any promises to her, and he is leaving: "I never told you it would work out to anything. Did I?" He promises to send her some money and to call her.

After getting into his car, however, he angrily thrashes around in the driver's seat in an uncontrollable fit. He struggles with himself (caught between two extremes) about whether his girlfriend (now pregnant) should join him or not. He feared being tied down by responsibilities to her, and was also embarrassed by her lack of class or refinement. Disturbed by his dutiful conscience, he returns to the house, removes and scratches the needle over the record to stop the Wynette song, and asks: "You wanna go with me?"

Bobby and Rayette are on the highway driving north. Hopelessly devoted to him, she makes funny faces at him, takes his Polaroid photograph, and kisses him. On the second day somewhere along the Pacific coast, she begins singing part of Tammy Wynette's "When There's A Fire In Your Heart":

There's been hot spells An' cold spells ever since we met
I've seen your big fires, your small fires, But I won't give up yet
Oh, someday you'll yearn, 'Cause your heart's gonna burn
For that old familiar glow...You'll be burned out or smoked out
And come back to me I know

During the film's interlude, they drive up to a car in the ditch on the left side of the road, with two female figures arguing with each other, soon introduced as a complaining lesbian couple:

  • Palm Apodaca (Helena Kallianiotes), a long-haired and aggressive malcontent, an unhappy and brassy lesbian, and an anti-filth, ecology nut obsessed with cleanliness
  • Terry Grouse (Toni Basil), Palm's passive female partner, with closely-cropped hair, and boyish looking

Palm explains that the recently-bought used car had faulty steering, and then invites herself for a "lift" from Bobby - they become a pair of hitchhikers. They transfer their belongings to Bobby's car and sit in the back seat, still silent and sulking from their roadside tiff. Rayette flirtatiously asks for Terry's name, at first not realizing that the short-haired person is female. The countercultural, societally-alienated pair are on their way to Alaska to escape society and because Palm thinks it's "cleaner," according to Terry. Palm retorts back: "You don't have to tell everybody about it. Pretty soon, they'll all go and it won't be so clean." She tells the inquisitive Bobby: "I saw a picture of it. Alaska's very clean. It appeared to look very white to me. Don't you think?" Bobby agrees, although pops her illusory bubble with a quip: "Yep. That was before the big thaw." She leans forward to ask: "Before the what?"

During the long trip, the morose, prophetic Palm describes her discontent, in a memorable ranting monologue, interrupted occasionally by others responding to her, or the changing of a flat tire:

I had to leave this place because I got depressed seeing all the crap. And the thing is, they're making more crap, you know. They got so many stores and stuff and junk full of crap. I can't believe it...Who? Man, that's who. Pretty soon, there won't be any room for man. They're selling more crap that people go and buy than you can imagine. Crap. I believe everybody should have a big hole where they throw the stuff in and burn it...

A disposal? What's that, but more crap? I've never seen such crap...People's homes, just filth. I've been in people's homes...I'm seeing more filth, a lot of filth. What they need to do every day, no, once in a while, is do a cockroach thing, you know, where they, uh, spray the homes, Can you imagine if their doors were painted a pretty color and they had a pot outside...and they picked up. I mean, then it wouldn't be filthy, with uh, Coke bottles and whisky and uh (she pauses to puff on her cigarette)

(Pointing at billboards and roadside signs), those signs everywhere. Well, they should be erased! All those signs selling you crap and more crap and more crap. And I - I don't know. I don't know. I don't even want to talk about it...It's just filthy. People are filthy. I think that's the biggest thing that's wrong with people. I think they wouldn't be as violent if they were clean, because then they wouldn't have anybody to pick on. Dirt. Not dirt. See, dirt isn't bad. It's filth. Filth is bad. That's what starts maggots and riots.

She urges Bobby to follow a truck, and then has a petty argument with an assertive Rayette:

Palm: Hey, follow that truck. They know the best places to stop.
Rayette: That's an old maid's tale.
Palm: Bulls--t! Truck drivers are the only ones that know the best places to stop on the road.
Rayette: Salesmen and cops are the ones. If you'd ever waitressed, honey, you'd know that.
Palm: Don't call me honey, mack.
Rayette: Don't call me mack, honey.
Palm: I wouldn't be a waitress. They're nasty and full of crap.
Rayette: You just hold onto your tongue.
Palm: Hold on to this. (Palm gestures with her middle finger)
Rayette: If you think you can talk to me like that --
Bobby: Shut up, all of ya!

The next classic scene is set in a roadside cafe-diner, in a booth for four by a front window. Bobby is again aggravated, impatient and exasperated by meaningless rules. [Note: Rebellious teens in the late 60s and the early 70s, represented by Palm, felt similarly about the establishment's 'system' and its conformist attitudes.] A live-by-the-rules, inflexible waitress (Lorna Thayer) stubbornly refuses to serve Bobby a plain omelette (with tomatoes instead of potatoes), a cup of coffee and a side order of wheat toast, because she dryly explains: "No substitutions." He quarrels with the waitress:

Dupea: I'd like a plain omelette. No potatoes. Tomatoes instead. A cup of coffee, and wheat toast.
Waitress: (She points to the menu) No substitutions.
Dupea: What do you mean? You don't have any tomatoes?
Waitress: Only what's on the menu. You can have a number two - a plain omelette. It comes with cottage fries and rolls.
Dupea: Yeah, I know what it comes with. But it's not what I want.
Waitress: Well, I'll come back when you make up your mind.
Dupea: Wait a minute. I have made up my mind. I'd like a plain omelette. No potatoes on the plate. A cup of coffee, and a side order of wheat toast.
Waitress: I'm sorry, we don't have any side orders of toast. I'll give you an English muffin or a coffee roll.
Dupea: What do you mean, you don't make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don't you?
Waitress: Would you like to talk to the manager?
Dupea: ...You've got bread and a toaster of some kind?
Waitress: I don't make the rules.
Dupea: OK, I'll make it as easy for you as I can. I'd like an omelette, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast. No mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce, and a cup of coffee.
Waitress: A number two. A chicken sal san. Hold the butter, the lettuce and the mayonnaise. And a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Dupea: Yeah. Now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.
Waitress (spitefully with her arms on her hips): You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Dupea: I want you to hold it between your knees.
Waitress (turning and telling him to look at the sign that says, "Right to Refuse Service") Do you see that sign, sir? Yes, you all have to leave. I'm not taking any more of your smartness and sarcasm.
Dupea: You see this sign?

Refusing to compromise, with one gesture with his right arm, he sweeps all the water glasses, place-mats, cutlery and menus off the table.

Later in the car, Bobby continues to rant by throwing their drinks on the floor, expressing more self-inflicted pain. To his surprise, Palm praises him for his defiance and quick wit: ("Fantastic that you could figure that all out, and lie that down on her, so you can come up with a way to get your toast, fantastic!"). He points out to her that he actually WASN'T successful in obtaining what he ultimately wanted - in this case, his food: "Yeah, well, I didn't get it (the sandwich), did I?" She responds: "No, but it was very clever. I would have just punched her out."

For a few more miles (while the other passengers nap), Palm resumes her rant about filthy human beings: "People. (Shaking her head in disgust) Animals are not like that. They're always cleaning themselves. Did you ever see, uhmm, pigeons? Well, he's always picking on himself and his friends. They're always picking bugs out of their hair all the time. Monkeys too. Except they do something out in the open that I don't go for."

She adds one more example of man creating a stink for himself, and a capitalistic conspiracy against having steam-powered cars: "You know, I read where they, uh, invented this car that runs on, uhm, that runs on, uhm? When you boil water?...Right, steam. A car that you could ride around in and not cause a stink. But do you know they will not even let us have it? Can you believe it? Why? Man! He likes to create a stink! I mean, I've seen filth that you wouldn't believe. Ugh! What a stink! I don't even wanna talk about it."

To the reprised tune of Tammy Wynette's "When There's a Fire in Your Heart," the two hitchhikers and their belongings (luggage, duffel bags, Singer sewing machine) are deposited at the side of the highway, and Rayette finally has Bobby all to herself:

When there's a fire in your heart, Break the glass sound the alarm
When she's not all she seems, Instant service, speedy, fast
I was your first, I'll be your last, No matter who you have in between...

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