Double feature: “Grease” and “Five Easy Pieces” present two different, but not unrelated, slices of Americana. Both movies are set in a series of iconically American interiors – malt shops and bowling alleys, pep rallies and truck stops, drive-ins and highways.
Both share a quintessentially (perhaps uniquely) American psychology of identity, in which all it takes is a change of clothes to allow legitimate entry into a completely different world, or to effect a significant transformation of the self. Both make clear how context-dependent conceptions and manifestations of identity can be – how we become different people around different people, and in different places.
Both films contend with the complicated relationship between what we do and who we are. Each film, in its own way, asks whether we have to make regular use of our talents or traits for them to remain a part of us.
On top of a shared psychology, both films feature a sweet-singing blonde and a salty brunette, a sleepover party (of sorts,) and a similar mixture of vulnerability and resilience of character. Visual parallels abound – the open steel of “Grease”‘s high school bleachers gives way to, and rhymes with, the open steel of the oil rigs in “Five Easy Pieces;” sharply defined, brightly toned colors echo across the two movies.
As befits their American hearts, both films make the automobile central to their trajectories – especially to their endings, both of which point to a similarly determinate-yet-indeterminate destination.
For a marathon: Although varying in tone and family dynamics, “The Family Stone” also contains many parallels with “Five Easy Pieces.” Both involve a return home, a casualness about switching partners, and circumstances under which other people show you who you are.
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “nootch” and “Amanda Schutz” at Flickr)