Martin Scorsese film starring Ellen Burstyn as a widow, Alice, who has to find a way to earn a living for her 11-year-old son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter). She leaves her home in New Mexico to find work as a singer in Phoenix and then Tucson, Arizona with the aim of reaching her girlhood home in Monterey, California by then end of the summer. Numerous men make a pass at her, including Ben (Harvey Keitel) and David (Kris Kristofferson), but living out of motel rooms with a cheeky, bad-mouthed son is a hard way to find stability.
Burstyn gives a powerful performance in a rare female lead and the sort of film one doesn't associate with Scorsese, who at times shows off unnecessarily with the camera. Tommy is a hilariously delinquent son, who meets Audrey (a very young Jodie Foster), a tomboy whose favourite word is "weird" and who leads him into trouble. Keitel's role is minor but impressive, and Kristofferson is dependable as charming nice-guy David.
This is Sandy (my dad)'s favourite film and has become a bit of a family institution for the humour: the cheek of Tommy and Audrey; the terrible "Shoot the dog! Shoot the dog!" joke, which is never told in full; the tense rapport between mother and son; and the supporting roles of the staff and customers in the diner at which Alice finds work as a waitress.
A comedy and a human drama (but not really a weepy) with career performances by an excellent cast. It's a shame Scorsese hasn't made more movies like this. One tends to expect from him gangsters and guns; in smalltown American he can also shine.
Nugget: some beautiful solo singing from Burstyn is showcased in a couple of at-the-piano scenes. This is one you can watch again and again over the years.