Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn) used to dream of being a singer when she was a little girl, and almost made moves to success in that profession when she grew up, but then she met Don (Billy Green Bush), got married, became pregnant, and somehow it never worked out as she would have liked. She loves her son Tommy (Alfred Lutter) and doesn't regret having him whatsoever, but Don is another matter, he has grown surly and strict with both his wife and his offspring, and if he is unhappy he is not sharing it with her. Tommy is starting to act up at home, becoming rebellious in the face of his father's bad tempered rule making, which is causing trouble and Alice doesn't know how to fix this - but then fate intervenes when Don is killed in a crash.
Alice Doesn't live Here Anymore is often overlooked in the canon of Martin Scorsese, possibly because he is often regarded as a director of men and presenting male concerns in his work, the sort of dilemmas that the masculine ego would find a burden are his natural metier, therefore in the one film where he concentrated almost exclusively on the issues a modern woman might encounter, this did not fit with his usual style. He fully admitted himself he did not know very much about women before he began helming this, but it seems Burstyn, who was coming off a huge success with horror classic The Exorcist, took control and was able to guide him throughout the production to something she believed was relevant to her experience as a single mother herself.
Scorsese encouraged improvisation among his actors to lend the proceedings a more naturalistic air; the first scene after the opening titles was a faux classic Hollywood scene, much like Dorothy's in The Wizard of Oz, where the young Alice tells her doll that she will be a singer one day, but then deliberately jars the audience used to the polite young ladies of the past era by saying anyone who doesn't like that can "blow it out their ass!", a statement of intent that we were not in for your typical women's picture as a Douglas Sirk or George Cukor might have delivered. After that consciously artificial set up, the tone was as close to authentic as they could make it, and just as life is subject to whims and caprice, you cannot anticipate how Alice's life will go.
No more than she can, she has her dreams and ambitions now her husband is out of the picture, but no matter the opportunity as she has as she plans to travel to Monterey where she grew up and resume that career as an entertainer, we can sense the fear and confusion she is trying to keep at bay in a society that has told her since birth that she should have a man by her side, telling her what to do and providing for her. Nevertheless, she and Tommy pack their bags and leave Socorro, and take a road trip, stopping along the way when the money runs out whereupon she manages against the odds to get a job as a lounge singer. So that would be the end of the story, right? Nothing of the sort, as she is courted by a younger man played by Harvey Keitel, initially charming but eventually an absolute nightmare.
Again the theme of going your own way being a double edged sword emerges, as Alice and Tommy move on again, to Phoenix this time, where she cannot get a singing job but can get a waitressing one, at Mel's Diner. This was the premise of the sitcom Alice which spun off from the movie, popular with the same audience who went to see the big screen version, but this was a harsher effort, no matter the amount of big laughs peppered throughout which effectively made this a comedy drama. With romance, as Kris Kristofferson hoved into view as a rancher who genuinely likes her, but may once more be too good to be true, yet wakes Alice up to the idea that while things will never be perfect, they can be good enough for her peace of mind in a chaotic world. Needless to say, this stood or fell by its performances, and everyone here was superb, Burstyn fully deserving her Oscar, Lutter alternately annoying and amusing as the borderline problem child, Diane Ladd relishing her salty dialogue as Alice's fellow waitress, and Jodie Foster obviously on her way to bigger things as the delinquent pal of Tommy. In any other director's filmography this would be a classic, rather than the cult item it is.
[There's a clear print on the BFI DVD, and here's the special features:
Partial audio commentary with director Martin Scorsese, and actors Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson and Diane Ladd
Second Chances... The Making of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (20 mins)
Original theatrical trailer (2 mins)
Illustrated booklet featuring full credits and essays by Nicolas Pillai and Christina Newland.]
American writer and director who emerged as one of the brightest and most vital of the generation of filmmakers who came to prominence during the 1970s with his heartfelt, vivid and at times lurid works. After deciding against joining the priesthood, he turned to his other passion - movies - and started with short efforts at film school until Roger Corman hired him to direct Boxcar Bertha.
However, it was New York drama Mean Streets that really made Scorsese's name as a talent to watch, and his succeeding films, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (which won Ellen Burstyn an Oscar and is the only Scorsese movie to be made into a sitcom) and the cult classic Taxi Driver (starring Robert De Niro, forever associated with the director's work) only confirmed this.
In the nineties, Scorsese began with the searing gangster saga Goodfellas, and continued with the over-the-top remake of Cape Fear before a change of pace with quietly emotional period piece The Age of Innocence. Casino saw a return to gangsters, and Kundun was a visually ravishing story of the Dalai Lama. Bringing Out the Dead returned to New York for a medical tale of redemption, and Gangs of New York was a muddled historical epic.
Still the Best Director Oscar eluded him, but the 2000s gave what many saw as his best chance at winning. Slick Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator didn't make it, but remake of Infernal AffairsThe Departed finally won him the prize. Outlandish thriller Shutter Island then provided him with the biggest hit of his career after which he surprised everyone by making family film Hugo - another huge hit.
This was followed by an even bigger success with extreme broker takedown The Wolf of Wall Street, and a return to his religious origins with the austere, redemption through torture drama Silence. He also directed Michael Jackson's Bad music video.