Friday, February 22, 2013

The Spitfire Grill (1996)

Old Style Small Town Chick Flick from the 90s

I saw this on MGM late last night and I had the same reaction to this movie that I had to an obscure 1981 film called Raggedy Man. As I guess I'm the only person who must have seen that film, I'll take a minute to tell you about it. 

It was set in small-town Texas during WWII, and starred Sissy Spacek as a single mother trying to raise two boys while handling the town's telephone switchboard around the clock. Eric Roberts was a sailor on leave who passes through and has a brief romance with her. At their poignant farewell, the film could have ended, having given us a warm slice of Americana. But, worried that they hadn't included all the ingredients for box-office success, the filmmakers tacked on the Big Finish, involving two local scumbags, the freakish title character, an attempted rape, and multiple murder. Audiences gave this demented concoction the Big Flush, and it's never been heard from since. 

In The Spitfire Grill, Alison Elliott, giving a sincere performance, plays a young woman just out of prison who moves to a small town in Maine to start a new life. She gets a job in the town's diner, and soon she wins the confidence of proprietress Ellen Burstyn and her timid friend Marcia Gay Harden. This film starts out like it will be a sensitive, low-key drama. I liked a sequence in which the three women auction off the diner with an essay contest, culminating in a lovely scene where the three of them sit up late drinking and reading the essays aloud. 

This bonding would be enough of a plot for most, and there's some nice scenery (Vermont standing in for Maine) and small-town ambiance. James Horner's rapturous music evokes the world of To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, before the film ends, writer/director Lee David Zlotoff was dragging me off to places I didn't wanna go. For the Big Finish, he brings in an irrationally jealous male adversary, some stolen money, and a mysterious Boo Radley character living in the woods. Ugh. It began with promise, but when it was over, I felt no wish to return. Anyway, readers might be interested to know that this movie won the Audience Award at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival!


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