'Alice’s Restaurant' is a free-flowing, free wheeling, counter-culture comedy set during the turbulent 60’s adapted from Guthrie’s musical monologue Alice’s Restaurant Massacre. Guthrie portrays the embodiment of America’s youth, a young man who sees his life beginning to unravel through psychedelic drug -fueled haze, as he and his friends (and the plot) spin toward an explosive conclusion.
"You hippie perversion!"
How do you make an entire movie out of a single 1960s folk song? Writer and director Arthur Penn decided to give it a try with Arlo Guthrie's hit tune 'Alice's Restaurant.' Staring Guthrie himself, this film attempts to be all things with edges of satirical comedy and heart-felt drama, only the film's free-wheeling esoteric tone doesn't really lend itself towards either genre to great effect.
Arlo Guthrie stars as himself, a young man about to be drafted who sets out to function within society in his own way and avoid his eventual deployment to Vietnam. As Arlo moves about the country he's met with tough cynicism and harsh treatment that look at people like him with complete and utter disdain. He falls in with nice group of free-minded individuals. Alice, Patricia Quinn and her husband Ray, James Broderick. Loosely based on real-life events in Guthrie's past, the movie sets about showcasing how people with long hair who occasionally smoke dope and play music are just unique misunderstood individuals.
The film unfolds with Arlo giving lyrical insights and explanations as he is arrested and tried for littering, and his experiences being drafted by the army. Arlo is witness to any number of contradictory events play out as his life moseys along. Ray purchases and refurbishes an old church so people like him can have a sanctuary free from harassment from either the local law Officer Obie, real-life Sheriff William Obanhein, or the tough locals. At the same time as Ray puts things together at the church, Alice takes on the responsibility of opening her very own restaurant. Things get turned on their heads when Shelly, Michael McClanathan, recently released from a drug treatment center starts using again.
'Alice's Restaurant' is an interesting film to say the least. It's part biopic, part comedy, part drama only it doesn't really work as a culmination of these genres, but it doesn't entirely fail either. I guess how you may greet this movie depends entirely on you and your life's structure. Some may see this as a calling card for the peaceful counter-culture movement, others may see it as a bunch of long-haired hippies who don't do much else other than get high and avoid responsibility. Both assessments are right, and both assessments are wrong.
As a middle-of-the-road individual, I certainly don't hate this film, as there is much to like, but I also can't bring myself to sing its praises. For one thing, at 111 minutes, 'Alice's Restaurant' runs a solid fifteen to twenty minutes too long and is desperately in danger of overstaying its welcome. On the other hand, there are some genuinely great performances, in particular from Patricia Quinn and James Broderick. Arlo may be a fine song writer, but asking him to act is a bit of a stretch as he really doesn't do much more than be cool and easy throughout the film, leading to an overall bland character who is still oddly captivating in his own eccentric way.
This also isn't Arthur Penn's finest hour either. With the likes of 'The Chase,' and 'Bonnie and Clyde' under his belt, 'Alice's Restaurant' just doesn't add much to the director's filmography. Like I said, it isn't a terrible movie by any stretch, but it also isn't a great one either. The people who are probably going to enjoy this one are the folks who are going to be willing to try it in the first place. If you don't really have any compulsion to see this film, you're probably not going to enjoy it. At the end of the day, I'll say it's worth a look as a curiosity, but it really is for a select audience.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Alice's Restaurant' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films on a BD25 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens directly to the main menu that offers a static image of the cover art.
'Alice's Restaurant' makes an okay debut on Blu-ray with a slightly problematic 1.85:1 1080p presentation. I'll get the negative stuff out of the way first. There is the expected moderate print wear in the form of specks, dirt, and an occasional scratch as well. Then there is image jitter. I can't figure if this is because of the gorilla style, "no tripod" filmmaking, or if this is an artifact of the scan process. It's an infrequent effect, but it's hard to miss when it happens.
In the plus column, film grain is nicely retained throughout lending itself to fine detail levels, particularly in closeups and midrange shots. Film grain is alive and well here. Some scenes are in better shape then others, but then some scenes look like they've been swarmed by insects. Black levels are solid all around with only modest instances of crush here and there. Colors are where this presentation finds strong marks as primaries have real pop and flesh tones feel warm and realistic. It's a problematic HD presentation, but for a film of this vintage it could look a lot worse.
'Alice's Restaurant' has nice life in a strong DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Imaging can feel a bit flat at times, especially during Arlo's narrations, but otherwise things sound very strong for this mono presentation. Dialogue comes through with great clarity and without any competing hisses or audio track damage. Music is where this track shines, as Arlo's tunes and other folk songs of the era are giving a lot of life and room to breathe. Sound effects for the most part are pretty strong here, again feeling a little flat at times since many scenes feel like they were shot without sound and then dubbed in during post. While inconsistent feeling, this is a strong audio track that lends itself to the tone of the movie.
Original Trailer: (HD 3:49) This is an extended trailer that gives Arlo that opportunity to introduce the movie and the events within. I'd say it pretty much spoils much of the movie but at the same time it's an interesting piece of marketing material.
'Alice's Restaurant' is pretty much a one of a kind movie experience. What kind of experience that is will ultimately rest on you. I myself found it to be entertaining, while not engrossing enough to be dramatically amazing, nor funny enough to be comedically satisfying - if that isn't a contradicting statement then I don't know what is. I will say that if you have any interest in seeing 'Alice's Restaurant' let alone owning it, you're probably going to enjoy it. With a pretty good HD and a strong audio track, 'Alice's Restaurant' may not be entirely recommendable, but I will say it's worth a look.