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From the Vault: Nobody’s Fool (1986)

November 13, 2010

Cash your chips? Your chips have been cashed!!!

When I was in my teens a seemingly quiet and quirky – isn’t that the term always used for femalecentric films seeking to give serious treatment to unglamorous female lives – film called Nobody’s Fool (1986) dropped into my lap. More likely, the sole copy of Pretty in Pink was already rented and La Mommie, ever the resourceful one saw a film, which appeared – based on front and back cover – to mirror the concerns explored in the John Hughes film. While it’s true both films are stories about women marginalized by class with sublime fashion sense who are suffocated by the judgmental spaces in which they occupy, Nobody’s Fool is a far more nuanced and authentic examination of the intersection of class, gender, disability and how one women’s sense of self and her perceived value is informed by the “mistakes” of her past.

And if that hasn’t whet your appetite, this film boasts a seriously sharp and witty script by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley, which Evelyn Purcell then directed the hell out of it. And the women! Oh the glorious women of this film. I’ll leave aside Rosanna Arquette for a minute. Let’s talk female acting stalwarts like:

The incomparable Louise Fletcher with Rosanna Arquette

Louise Fletcher

It’s unfortunate such a fantastic actor barely escaped the brilliance of her tour-de-force performance in Milos Foreman’s masterpiece One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it seemed enough time had passed and Fletcher was able to submerge herself in the role of Pearl, the switched-off matriarch of the disgraced Stooley family. Nobody can make a story about meal of sanitary napkins and ketchup both cultural commentary and also a pretty saucy moment of scene stealing. Not that Rosanna Arquette doesn’t give Fletcher wide berth in their scenes together, which of course is the smartest choice.

Gwen Welles

Whenever I’m watching an indie film – particularly the films of Henry Jaglom – I get a moment of squee before Gwen Welles appears in the credits. Sadly, the fabulous actor of such classics as Nashville, and the quirky queer cult classic Desert Hearts and Eating, died in 1993 after succumbing to a brain tumor diagnosed less than a year before her death. Her work in Nobody’s Fool is some of my favorite. Welles does effortlessly what Parker Posey (a fine actor in her own right) struggles to accomplish with a similar character in Waiting for Guffman.

Mare Winningham

I mostly know of Mare Winningham through her numerous portrayals of frumpy, dumpy women who find themselves involved with shifty, hot men – See: St. Elmo’s Fire – and occasionally from being mentioned by Kevin Spacey as they went to high school together; the very same high school my little sis graduated from. Anyhoo, Winningham gets a meaty “against type” role as the town’s vampy single woman who believes she’s got quite the bead on life. And whose knowledge is generously doled out to folks regardless of whether or not they’ve asked her for the advice. It’s a delicious and hilarious role for her – it all comes down to her well studied mannerisms – which she plays completely straight.

Nobody’s Fool finds our plucky protagonist – expertly played by Rosanna Arquette with a face that owns the camera – at a sort of an emotional crossroads. Her life in the small idyllic town is just the pits. She hasn’t lived down the one-two punch of getting knocked up and stabbing her cruel and obnoxious high school sweetheart in the neck with a fork, despite the fact the dude is alive, well and married to the daughter of the richest man in town. This small town has no hate for a dude who tells his pregnant sweetheart that he doesn’t feel ready to, “cash in his chips” and suggests that despite the lateness of her pregnancy they would find a way to “take care of it”. He’s no pro choicer, so that’s not my beef. But a real oppressive asshole in a town where there is no racial diversity, it’s all about class. And that’s what I really like about the film. I really think lots of folks fail to appreciate much of what we’re talking about when we talk about race is actually class. And this film does a very good job of tackling class, particularly as it relates to the framing of mental illness, sickness and disability. The oppression experienced by every single woman in town, regardless of her station in life is palatable. Henley’s script is deft and unflinching, but supported with plenty of humor.

Folks who love Waiting for Guffman will get a kick out of the B-plot which sees our good friend Stephen Tobolowsky doing a little Corky St. Claire years before that name would mean anything to any of us. Despite the dazzling array of hot pants, Tobolowsky, like the rest of the cast is playing it straight and this makes for some hilarious moments. His off screen throw away line, “Is that a chain saw?!?” is by far the film’s most LOL worthy line.

I’ve tried to put these last two things off as long as I could, but I can’t suppress them anymore. Nobody’s Fool contains a love story plot and that love story plot contains perennial C-list fave Eric Roberts, looking a whole lot like his sister did when she doned a male disguise in Sleeping with the Enemy to evade that guy who played her husband and looked an awful lot like Kevin Kline in a bad wig. Depending how you feel about Eric Roberts this may or may not be good news. However, regardless how you feel about Mr. Roberts or his horrifying array of blood sport martial arts films, if there was ever a time to watch him in a film, this would be it. He is surprisingly sweet, poignant and charming as Riley, the stage hand who happens to be touring with Stephen Tobolowsky’s traveling theater company and funding cash grab. Sure there are actors better adept at the needs of this type of leading male, but let’s talk tofurkey, they ain’t the kind of actors you can afford on a scant budget such as the one, which Nobody’s Fool was filmed on. Besides, Arquette and Roberts have an awful lot of chemistry and play off of each other quite brilliantly. The romantic comedy stuff isn’t the whole movie and regardless of what you might think of the more formulaic elements of the film, Nobody’s Fool is a touching, sweet film populated with smart female actors and made by smart women! It’s worth a look. And with a humble running time of 107 mins it’s the perfect little weekend afternoon treat.

Nobody’s Fool is now available for streaming on Netflix.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. cindy permalink
    November 13, 2010 8:19 pm

    I’ve never seen this/heard of it, thanks! I remember Eric Roberts as a somewhat critically acclaimed, someone-to-watch-for actor when he first started out, and then…something happened. Drugs? I’m not sure.

  2. November 14, 2010 8:15 am

    @Cindy – re: Roberts. Might be. He works often enough that it doesn’t seem to be about his on-set troubles with directors or such. There’s always been talk – whispers – that his lack of career prospects has more to do with his truculent relationship with his sister than anything. But I ain’t one to gossip; so you ain’t heard it from me.

  3. aliciamaud permalink
    November 16, 2010 8:34 am

    Oh, wow, when you mentioned this on Twitter, I had the wrong “Fool.” I have only seen the Paul Newman one, which I watched it in the mid-90’s (while working at one of his summer camps…there were a few copies of this and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid floating around for rainy nights after the kids went to bed). But this looks so up my alley as to swoop to the top of my Netflix instant queue.

  4. November 16, 2010 4:55 pm

    *adds to Netflix queue*

  5. November 17, 2010 9:53 am

    @raymondj – every time Louise Fletcher comes on screen I think of you. I was imagining what you’d think or how hard you’d laugh at some of the things she says.

  6. November 17, 2010 10:31 am

    it’s true, I do love Louise Fletcher!

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