GUARDIAN - The film that makes me cry: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
When my mum moved house recently, for the first time in years, she handed me a box of junk and asked me to either bin it or take it back to London with me: excruciating teenage poetry, letters from my first summer away from home, postcards of Green Day, Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, and a few promotional film posters that I used to get from the video shop in town. Along with The Craft and 10 Things I Hate About You, I found Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, a southern story so unapologetically sentimental that even the soft-focus women’s-mag artwork brings a tear to my eye. Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates), in her post-makeover power suit, leans on the shoulder of Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy), and is carried through her menopausal breakdown by the love story of Ruth Jamison and Idgie Threadgoode, who smile behind them, not yet ripped apart by the cruellest cancer in cinematic history.
When I was 12, Fried Green Tomatoes was my favourite film. To prove my devotion I almost wore out the VHS that I had taped from a late-night Channel 4 screening. My mum said she didn’t know how I could watch it so often. Years later, I found the answer. When I was 19 and at university, I made one of my housemates watch it with me. He informed me that I loved it because it was the gayest film of all time.
“What? No! Shut up!” I said, when he pointed it out during a scene in which Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker) go for a platonic picnic, and there’s a pointed close-up of Ruth dipping her fingers into a pot of honey. I was doing an English degree at the time, which is remarkable, given my failure to grasp basic subtext. From then on I watched it with open eyes. The food fight on a hot, sweaty afternoon, in which they smear fruit across each other’s mouths then collapse onto the floor? Ah. That drunken peck on the cheek while they literally dip their toes in the water? I see. (In 2006, a documentary called Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema got to this point more quickly than I had, explaining that the source novel was explicitly about a romance between Ruth and Idgie, and that the film had toned it right down to inference, in order to give it more of a family appeal.)
I loved them when I thought they were just very good friends who had chosen to open a cafe together (and live together and raise a child together and be together forever), but I loved them even more when I realised that I had been growing up with a sneakily non-heteronormative portrait of romantic happiness. Towards the end of the movie, it looks as if everything is going to be OK. Ruth’s abusive husband, who had brought the Ku Klux Klan to town, has been murdered (which we fully support, because he is horrible), and Big George and Idgie are cleared of the deed in a court of law, so there’s a happily-ever-after in sight. “Till that fall, when Ruth lost her appetite …”
On any typical viewing, by this bit, I have already cried at Buddy Sr getting run over by a train, at Evelyn being ignored by her sports-slob husband as she tries to revive their marriage by means of an innovative use of clingfilm, at the story of Ninny’s love for her now-deceased disabled son, and at that scene where Evelyn is sworn at in the supermarket by a rude young man and then her bags rip open. But I am never too wrung out to resist the huge, all-encompassing sobs that take me over when Ruth finally shuffles off this mortal coil, as Idgie tells her a silly old story about geese taking a frozen lake with them all the way from Alabama to Georgia. “Miss Ruth was a lady, and a lady always knows when to leave,” says Sipsy, as she draws the curtains, at which point I can no longer see or breathe. Idgie, the bee charmer, has lost her soulmate. Who will appreciate her fashion-forward dungarees, no-socks, boxy shirts look now? (An important note: in its final shot, the film implies that Jessica Tandy’s character is Idgie, which annoys me, because earlier, she clearly states that she married Idgie’s brother and I feel like it’s a con that takes advantage of the more casual viewer.)