Two life-weary 30-something women in middle America escape their opressive lives for a weekend but find themselves on the run after a nasty episode in the car-park of a roadside bar...
Already hailed by some critics as a feminist manifesto for the 90s, Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise is certainly provoking out-of-proportion raves from the right-on. While it falls short of fullblown masterpiece status, however, this self-discovery-on-the-road movie really is a genuine must-see, not only to keep up with what is set to be the post-Lambs dinner party movie topic, but also for Scott's breathless, epic realisation of a smart, funny script and bravura performances from its wonderful leading ladies.
This entertaining, giddy tale of two friends who become fugitives is a Big Deal, however, not because it is that original — screenwriter Callie Khouri couldn't have concocted this movie without Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and William Goldman's much-copied pattern for an action adventure about comically wisecracking comrades — but because of the astonishing fact that this is the first big-budget Hollywood picture in which the pals are gals.
And what gals! When Geena Davis' bullied housewife Thelma and Susan Sarandon's worn waitress Louise sneak off for a quiet weekend break from their cares (synonymous with their men), a drunken, foul-mouthed, would-be rapist in the car park of an Arkansas honky-tonk sparks Louise's pent-up rage and memories of past abuses. One unthinking, split-second of violence later, and the sickened, terrified women are on the run across the Southwest from a murder charge. That their route to freedom and fulfilment goes way over the top in a Bonnie And Bonnie scenario of escalating disaster and crime is less troublesome than it ought to be, thanks to Davis and Sarandon raising hell and cracking wise with wild, womanly, utterly captivating style.
For a change, the actors trailing in their wake get to be the cyphers Thelma's repulsive husband, Louise's Peter Pan unable-to-commit fella, Plod of the FBI, the Nazi redneck cop, the lewd trucker, the seductive thief, with even Harvey Keitel's comprehending 'tec a tad paternalistic in his sympathy for the women. Few men-who-would-be-ideologically-sound will, however, dare to demur as angry women in audiences around them find their voices to cheer and scream thrilled encouragement at Thelma and Louise violently and hilariously taking charge.
One cannot but share these women's exultation as they answer "the call of the wild", speeding along the highway in a convertible T-bird, chugging Wild Turkey, swapping delightful one-liners and harmonising with the radio. Scott and his British collaborators have created a visual sensation using stunning, desolate landscapes as a mythic backdrop for the women's daring odyssey. And the ultimate, significant difference that makes this buddy movie its very own heart-in-the-mouth job is that when Butch and Sundance went out they were holding guns; when Thelma and Louise are indelibly freeze-framed, pedal to the metal in their crazy act of defiance, they are holding hands. Way to go!
Still compelling and inspiring after all these years.