I had not even applied to film school when Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean was first released in 1982. Yes, by 1983 my friend Rebeka had told me it’s a “must see” and without a doubt those early film projects of mine would have been much improved had I listened to her. 34 years later I am reminded that some films are timeless, beautiful, and can capture simply and perfectly who we are in our often flawed human eloquence.
Robert Altman’s (M*A*S*H, Nashville) period piece ushers us back to the 80’s, 70’s, 50’s. Slow-moving as compared to recent films, bereft of CGI, digital sound and the scatter gun film editing of modern days, Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean is by far one of the most beautiful 1 hour and 49 minutes of recent memory.
In fairness, the film’s success is in part due to Ed Graczyk’s playwriting skills that sets the wistful stage of the ageing 5 & Dime Woolworth’s in Texas, on the 20 year anniversary of the Disciples of James Dean Fan Club.
As decades later each member returns, they bring with them the pain of the past coupled with the angst of the present. Who have they become over the past 20 years? How will they been seen by their one time peers? How will they see themselves? Perhaps the lesson here is looking the other way doesn’t necessarily relieve the pain. At least not all of it. Sissy (Cher) is awaiting her husband’s return while Mona (Sandy Dennis), continues to look after her son, a painful reminder, perhaps penance for teenage love of 20 years ago.
Yes, Mona was chosen as the one among many teenage girls to continue Dean’s lineage. There is Edna (Marta Heflin) who is simply dumb, but doesn’t mind, in her own way perhaps the happiest of everyone there. Other characters (portrayed by Kathy Bates, Karen Black, Sudie Bond) take part in the reunion as they share their stories, but if I reveal much more it would rob the viewer of allowing the characters to speak their own truths. But do listen to these women, as their words are both poetic and poignant, their lives wonderfully flawed yet redemptive. Cell phones and laptops off. Listen carefully, it will remind you of someone you know.