Five Easy Pieces (1970)

five easy pieces movie poster 1970 jack nicholson
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

One of Nicholson's best

Story is sometimes uneven

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Five Easy Pieces

Studio:  BBS Productions

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  September 12, 1970

MPAA Rating:  R

five easy pieces rayette bobby karen black jack nicholson

Rayette…you’re not the brightest but I love you…sometimes

Robert Dupea (Jack Nicholson) is a man who had it all.  He came from an affluent family and was a trained pianist with skills beyond most…but he walked away from all of it.  Working on oil rigs, Bobby and his live-in girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black) live the mundane life.  When Bobby learns from his sister Partita (Lois Smith) that their father (William Challee) is sick, Bobby must return to the life and family that he was running from…and like-it-or-not, Rayette is coming with him.

Written and directed by Bob Rafelson (with additional writing by Adrien Joyce), Five Easy Pieces is a drama film.  The movie was released to critical acclaim and received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Nicholson), Best Supporting Actress (Black), and Best Original Screenplay.  The movie was inducted to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2000 and also received a Criterion release as part of the America Lost and Found:  The BBS Story (Criterion #546).

five easy pieces piano freeway scene jack nicholson

When there’s a piano, you have to play…

Five Easy Pieces isn’t the easiest film despite its title.  The story ranges from comedy to dark drama and has an open ending that might not sit with everyone.  I think it is one of Nicholson’s great performances to date.  It is also very watchable.

The movie does have odd pacing.  The beginning sequence with the oil rig sets out to demonstrate Bobby’s mundane life he’s picked but you could argue that it goes on a bit too long and cuts into the family aspect of the story near the end.  The fact that the family part of the story seems short also shows how Bobby can’t deal with it and can take oil rigs and bowling alleys better than philosophical discussions and pretenses.  In between these segments, you have one of the best comedic moments as a couple of hitchhikers really increase the comedy of the picture…all these points lead to an ending that is rather heartbreaking.  It isn’t for everyone.

five easy pieces hitchhikers toni basil helena kallianiotes karen black jack nicholson

From funniest of comedies…

The cast for the movie is perfect.  Nicholson isn’t “Jack” at this point though you see some hints of him in the diner scene.  He’s calm, collected, and not getting by on just charm…in fact his character is struggling to be charming when he is so insecure.  Karen Black is another strange actress who only works in really specific roles and this one fit perfectly…kind of dumb, kind of annoying, but there is something still likeable about her that you feel bad for her.  Growing up around The Waltons, it is odd to see Ralph Waite in a kind of jerky role and Lois Smith is good as Bobby’s backward sister.  I like Susan Anspach and wish she had done more around this time and there are cameos by All in the Family’s Sally Struthers and the Match Game’s Fannie Flagg.  The real scene stealer however is Helena Kallianiotes as the “I don’t even want to talk about it” hitchhiker and her partner played by Toni Basil.

five easy pieces bobby father scene jack nicholson william challee

…to saddest of dramas

The movie also has the great 1960s/1970s look that no matter how people try to recapture, they never quite succeed.  It is Americana and shows the different Americas all in one film.  It has a real feel to it.

Five Easy Pieces is one of Nicholson’s best movies.  The movie might not be the most attainable picture and it sometimes has a weird balance between the humor and the drama, but it still remains a great film.  It is the type of movie (like Updike’s Rabbit series) that could have been revisited from time to time to see how Bobby turned out…and what became of him.  The movie’s cold ending will always leave you wondering…does Bobby ever stop running?

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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