Alice Hyatt (Burstyn) is a woman in her mid-thirties, living in New Mexico and stuck in an unhappy marriage to truck driver Donald (Billy Green Bush). She becomes unstuck when Donald gets killed in a traffic accident—but she is also alone and jobless and responsible for her 12-year-old son Tommy (Alfred Lutter). Alice briefly worked as a nightclub singer in her hometown of Monterey, California prior to getting married, so she elects to try that again. Eventually she winds up in Tucson, Arizona, where dire financial necessity forces her to take a job as a waitress at Mel and Ruby's Café. There she makes friends with her fellow waitresses, sassy Flo (Diane Ladd) and meek Vera (Valerie Curtin), and finds love with rancher David (Kristofferson).
Burstyn, who was given creative control of this film after starring in smash hit The Exorcist, personally selected up-and-comer Scorsese to be the director. The film won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. It was adapted for television as the sitcom Alice, which became a big hit and ran for nine years (197685) on CBS. Vic Tayback, who appears in the film as cranky diner owner Mel, reprised his role on the TV show, while Diane Ladd, who plays Flo in the movie, later joined the series as a different waitress character.
Child star Jodie Foster has a supporting part in this movie as Audrey, Tommy's juvenile delinquent friend. Harvey Keitel plays Ben, briefly Alice's boyfriend. Diane Ladd's daughter, Laura Dern, has a bit part as a bespectacled kid eating an ice cream cone at Mel and Ruby's.
Tropes seen in this film:
- Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?:Flo: If there's going to be any grabassing around here it's going to be mine.
- Argument of Contradictions:Tommy: He asked us out there Sunday.
Alice: Farmer John's just gonna have to get along without me, I can tell you that.
Tommy: I want to go.
Tommy: [Jumping on the couch] Yes!
- Aside Glance: In one scene in the hotel where Tommy is being particularly irritating, Alice shoots an exasperated glance directly at the camera.
- Bratty Half-Pint: Although Tommy is essentially good-hearted, he can be bratty and annoying, and he curses like a sailor. David tells Alice that she spoils him too much. In one scene in the car, Alice breaks down in tears after Tommy just will not stop telling an insanely irritating long story about shooting a dog.Alice: I'm an okay sorta person. How'd I get such a smart-ass kid?Tommy: You got pregnant.
- Buxom Is Better: Flo's opinion. After telling Alice to unbutton her uniform and show some cleavage, she changes her mind, saying if Alice is going to do that Flo isn't going to get any tips.Flo: Everybody can see that she's got big tits on her, but hands off, let the girl do her work.
- The Chanteuse: What Alice is hoping to do for a living. She does get a job singing and playing piano in a bar for a little while.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Vera, the mousy third waitress at Mel and Ruby's, has elements of this.
- Description Cut:
- "I don't date teenagers", when Alice is trying to fend off the advances of younger man Ben. Cut to Alice on a date with Ben.
- The Argument of Contradictions listed above is immediately followed by a cut to Alice and Tommy at David's ranch.
- Domestic Abuser: Moments after Alice finds out Ben is married, she finds out he is this as well, when a violent, knife-wielding Ben storms in to break up her talk with Ben's wife.
- Hypocritical Humor: Alice swears, Tommy swears, and she tells him "Don't talk dirty."
- Ironic Juxtaposition: The whole movie, Alice has been promising an insistent Tommy that she will get them to Monterey, California before the school year starts. In the end, Tommy tells her that it's OK if they stay in Tucson. The last shot of the movie shows them walking towards a hotel or restaurant called the Monterey.note
- Male Gaze: Lampshaded when a prospective employer asks Alice to turn around. She says "I don't sing with my ass!" and walks out.
- A Minor Kidroduction: The opening scenes are a stylized retraux parody of The Wizard of Oz, depicting a young Alice on the family farm in Monterey.
- My God, What Have I Done?: When Tommy is being really, really bratty after the fight with David, an angry Alice tosses him out of the car, telling him to walk the last mile home. Instead he goes to visit Audrey, leading to a sobbing, hysterical Alice driving around looking for him, saying "What did I do?"
- The Oner: A hallmark of Martin Scorsese's career, here seen in an impressive shot where the camera starts with Flo and Alice in the diner, leads them through the snaking back passages of the diner, then follows them outside and into an outdoor toilet.
- Plot-Triggering Death: Donald's death gets the story rolling, as Alice now has to find a job.
- Product Placement: A rather odd example, considering that a character (Donald) is depicted getting killed while delivering the product (Coca-Cola).
- Record Needle Scratch: In-universe when an annoyed David takes Tommy's hard rock record off of the record player.
- Shout-Out: Mott the Hoople's "All the Way from Memphis" is prominently featured in the opening scene.
- So Long, Suckers!: Audrey says this word-for-word after being liberated from jail.
- Titled After the Song: "Annie Doesn't Live Here Anymore", a 1933 song by Johnny Burke and Harold Spina.
- Time Skip: Cut forward 27 years after A Minor Kidroduction.
- Toxic Friend Influence: Audrey, an 11-year-old daughter of a prostitute (whom she calls "Ramada Rose"). She convinces Tommy to go shoplifting, tries to get him to huff paint, and eventually gets him drunk on Ripple wine.