A 1970 drama film that marked Jack Nicholson's transition from promising character actor to outright movie star. One of the early films of the so-called "American new wave" that flourished in the early 1970s, it featured flawed and often unsympathetic characters, idiosyncratic dialogue, and an ending that did not offer any conventional resolution. The plot involves Robert Dupea, an oil rig worker living with his waitress girlfriend, who returns to his family's estate and must face his past after his father becomes ill.
Directed by Bob Rafelson, the film also stars Karen Black, Susan Anspach, Billy "Green" Bush, Fannie Flagg, Ralph Waite, Sally Struthers, Toni Basil (later of "Mickey" fame), Lois Smith, and Helen Kallianiotes.
The title is a reference to a well-known introductory piano book, containing "five easy pieces" for beginners. In latter days this film has become something of a Watch It for the Meme example, being best remembered for the iconic scene where Robert does battle with an unhelpful waitress (see Overcomplicated Menu Order below).
This movie provides examples of:
- Anti-Hero: Robert is a selfish, nasty person who has no affection for anyone.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Robert Eroica Dupea, Palm Apodaca.
- The Bore: Palm Apodaca, the obnoxious hitchhiker that Robert and Rayette pick up, who will not stop ranting about how everyone and everywhere in the world is filthy, even when she puts the other passengers to sleep.
- Creator Cameo: Director Bob Rafaelson is the man going into the elevator at the recording studio.
- Disappeared Dad: Robert is on his way to become one after he abandons Rayette and her unborn child at a gas station in the end.
- The Ditz: Rayette. She's a sweetheart, and she adores Robert, but she's dumb as a box of rocks.
- Dramatic Thunder: Just after Robert and Catherine cross paths on the ferry. The sound of rain persists throughout the following scene.
- Dysfunctional Family: There's Robert's father, who is crippled by a stroke; Robert's sister Tita, carrying on an illicit affair with her father's male nurse; his emasculated brother Carl, and Carl's wife Catherine, who cheats on her husband with Robert.
- Foreshadowing: Robert's working on an oil rig, but there are hints that there's more to his life, like when he sits down and plays the hell out of a piano, or when he insults Elton by calling him a "cracker asshole who lives in a trailer park" (where Robert is also living, and we have no reason to think he is not a cracker as well), or when he refuses to let Rayette play Tammy Wynette because "it's a question of musical integrity".
- Hidden Depths: It turns out that Robert the rough-neck oil rig worker is actually a classically-trained pianist from a rich family.
- Hypocritical Heartwarming: Bobby lays into a frosty intellectual for talking down to Rayette. He belittles her and sleeps around on her but is also protective of her, sometimes.
- Hypocritical Humor: Palm Apodaca, who occasionally interrupts her nonstop ranting about how filthy the world is by saying "I don't even want to talk about it."
- Jerkass: Robert is mean to everyone, except Catherine. She calls him out, saying that he can't ask for love if he doesn't have any to give.
- Leave the Camera Running: The memorable closing shot of the lonely gas station, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, after Robert abandons Rayette.
- Love Martyr: Poor Rayette, sticking around abrasive Robert, imagining that somehow she'll get him to love her.
- Manly Tears: Robert breaks down weeping when talking to his father.
- No Ending: Robert and Rayette stop at a gas station. He abruptly hitches a ride on a logging truck, abandoning her. The End.
- Overcomplicated Menu Order: Jack Nicholson's character wants an omelet with wheat toast. The hostile waitress refuses to accommodate him, so he orders his omelet with no potatoes, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, "hold the lettuce, hold the tomato, hold the mayo. And hold the chicken salad."
- The Proud Elite: The incredibly arrogant, condescending lady philosopher dinner guest, who is rude to Rayette at dinner.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Catherine gives this to Robert after refusing to run away with him.Catherine: You're a strange person, Robert. I mean, what will you come to? If a person has no love for himself, no respect for himself, no love of his friends, family, work, something - how can he ask for love in return? I mean, why should he ask for it?
- Robert gives a deeply satisfying one to the bitchy, arrogant woman who insults Rayette at dinner.
- Scenery Porn: The Dupea estate and the areas around it, the California coast, and the oil fields around Bakersfield. Actually, just about every outdoor wide shot in the movie counts.
- Significant Name: Robert Eroica Dupea.
- Slice of Life: There's really no overarching story, as such, but instead a character story of Robert as he tries and fails to deal with his responsibilities to his family and his pregnant girlfriend.
- The Speechless: Robert's father, rendered so by multiple strokes.
- Spiritual Successor: To Easy Rider. Also a road movie, same production company, several of the same cast members. The main difference is that it's about alienation in mainstream society instead of the alienation of the counterculture.
- Theme Naming: Music-related names are common in the Dupea family. Bobby and Carl both have middle names taken from Beethoven compositions (Eroica and Fidelio) and their sister is named Partita.
- Wall Bang Her: Robert bangs Betty, played by a young and lovely Sally Struthers of All in the Family fame, off of the wall and every other surface in the room.