If you wouldn't open your mouth, everything would be just fine.
Five Easy Pieces is about a man who doesn't fit in anywhere. We meet him working construction, hanging out with Rayette the waitress and his work buddy, Elton. He bowls, flirts, fucks in an uneasy truce in the trailer park. We sense, though, that he's not really part of that scene.Then his pal Elton gets busted for an old robbery charge; turns out Elton wasn't as simple a hick as we thought, and himself a guy that wasn't whom he seemed to be.
Then Bobby visits his sister, Tita. It turns out she's a classical pianist in the mold of Glenn Gould making a recording. She tells him that their father has suffered a stroke. Bobby heads up north to Washington, and stashes Rayette in a motel while he visits his family in a Victorian mansion on a island. Along with his father and his sister, we meet Karl, his brother and a teacher, as well Catherine, his brother's fiance. He seduces Catherine, then falls in love with her. Rayette shows up out of the blue, and Bobby, with his last real hope smashed, leaves his family.
Five Easy Pieces is audacious in insisting on portraying a character, rather than hitching one to a plot. It's audacious in its structure: for about the first half of the movie, it all seems random. Then it clamps down as it peels back the layers. We finally get inside Bobby himself as he almost involuntarily spills his guts to his father:
[to his father] I don't know if you'd be particularly interested in hearing anything about me. My life, I mean... Most of it doesn't add up to much... that I could relate as a way of life that you'd approve of...I'd like to be able to tell you why, but I don't really...I mean, I move around a lot because things tend to get bad when I stay. And I'm looking...for auspicious beginnings, I guess...I'm trying to, you know, imagine your half of this conversation...My feeling is, that if you could talk, we probably wouldn't be talking. That's pretty much how it got to be before... I left...Are you all right? I don't know what to say...Tita suggested that we try to...I don't know. I think that she...seems to feel we've got...some understanding to reach...She totally denies the fact that we were never that comfortable with each other to begin with...The best that I can do, is apologize. We both know that I was never really that good at it, anyway...I'm sorry it didn't work out.He says this to a man who's paralyzed, expressionless, and locked in a wheelchair. We don't know if the father understands anything.
This film also works along a series of contrasts: SoCal oil fields, all orange and red, and the Pacific Northwest, cool and green. Country and classical. Rayette, the waitress, and Catherine, the classical pianist. Oil rigs and concert grands This even extends to the title; five easy pieces are the music by Chopin, Bach and Mozart, but they're the five songs by Tammy Wynette, too.
He's a man out of place. The blue collar world is vivid, but narrow. The musical and intellectual milieu has its own tight constraints, and Bobby's lashing out, caught between the two extremes.
Brilliant, brave and offering all the jolt of a great novel.
And one of the great movie endings: