I am usually not one of Jack Nicholson’s big defenders. Usually I find that he plays shades of one angry dickish character and that can bum me out. I mean, he is one of the most nominated actors in Academy Award history after all and I can’t see his performance in Terms of Endearment being too different that from As Good As It Gets or Chinatown apart from his age.
Having said all that – I think Bobby Dupea in Five Easy Pieces might actually be the best role I have seen Jack Nicholson play. Yes, even better than in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, which I know will be sacrilegious to some people.
Now Five Easy Pieces would come more under the umbrella of character study than a regularly plotted film. It very much belongs to that American New Wave movement that includes the likes of Easy Rider and Harold and Maude in both look and in feeling.
At the centre is former piano prodigy Bobby Dupea and his return home to visit his family after his father has suffered a few strokes. In the preceding years he has been living as an oil worker with no mention being made of his past or his music playing family.
In fact, it is a traffic jam that spurs the entire thing off. In this memorable scene he clambers onto the back of a truck and starts to play the tinny piano he finds there. It’s like this part of him his reawakened as, after a long absence, he seeks out his sister and, in turn, the rest of his family.
Bobby is a deeply unhappy and insecure man. He is also, however, charming. This is the first time that I have actually found a Jack Nicholson character charming. It was a real shock moment for me. I think it is best demonstrated in a scene where he is thrown out of a diner for wanting to order off menu (as in he wants toast, and they won’t give him toast). Look it up if you can as I actually laughed out loud to it.
It is worth point out Karen Black’s performance as Bobby’s Tammy Wynette loving girlfriend Raynette. She manages to be endearingly ditzy without wandering too far into annoying. I mean it’s easy to see why Bobby would get annoyed with her, but she means well enough.
This might not have been the film to watch on a day off after working 11 straight days, but I still enjoyed it. Now to play No Man’s Sky for hours and hours and hours.