Thelma & Louise: Feminist Road Trip Has Heart, Humor, Modern Resonance

5 out of 5 stars (Classic)

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Note: Thelma & Louise discusses and shows an attempted sexual assault.

Something I’ve learned as a critic is that time changes perspective.  A person can see a film or show at one age and not comprehend what it’s talking about, but see it later and connect with it in a whole new way.  That was my experience with Thelma & Louise, a fun, funny, and fiercely feminist road trip buddy movie whose meaning was lost on my 18-year-old self, but at age 25 left a much greater impact on me than expected.  With Hollywood scrambling to release female empowerment films, I think they should examine Callie Khouri’s script for Thelma & Louise to see one way to do it right.

We follow two BFFs, obedient housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) and free-spirited Louise (Susan Sarandon) as they embark on a weekend road trip to get away from it all and let their hair down.  Unfortunately, they encounter a skeevy guy at a bar who nearly rapes Thelma in the parking lot before Louise shoots him dead.  As Thelma was dancing with the guy in the bar before the attempted assault, the ladies know that the cops won’t believe their self-defense claims and decide to go on the run, beginning an unintended yet empowering cross-country crime spree whilst a well-meaning detective (Harvey Keitel) investigates.

Thelma & Louise is one of the best road trip movies ever made.  Davis and Sarandon are in top form and Khouri’s script ditches the usual buddy dynamic (one is the straight man, the other is the wild card) to provide both characters with anarchic and vulnerable moments.  The film addresses the different effects of and reactions to sexual assault honestly without getting preachy, and the mixture of comedy, crime antics, and human drama is just about perfect.  Thelma and Louise’s friendship is genuine and endearing, making for one the great onscreen duos and reminding us all about the importance of connections in difficult times.

Thelma & Louise received criticism on release for demonizing the male characters, and as a male who has seen movies that actually do that, I was never offended or patronized by Thelma & Louise in the slightest.  While their husbands are abusive buffoons and the men they encounter on the road aren’t good guys, Harvey Keitel’s detective is sympathetic to their plight and does everything he can to bring them in peacefully.  Everyone feels refreshingly realistic amid the crazy road antics, ensuring we never lose our emotional connection with the heart of this story, providing an escapist fantasy, empowerment tale, crime caper, buddy film, emotional drama, and funny comedy in equal measure.

Thelma & Louise explores friendship, victimization, and self-empowerment with humor, insight, and realism while subverting expectations in creative ways.  Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are flawless in the leads, Ridley Scott’s direction is uncommonly intimate, and Callie Khouri’s script juggles its narrative, thematic, and genre elements with surprising finesse.  If you haven’t seen this movie yet or haven’t seen it in some time, I implore you to give it another shot.  In these uncertain times, Thelma & Louise left a smile on my face and a hopeful outlook in my heart.  Obviously, See Thelma & Louise, and look out for a young Brad Pitt in a supporting role.

Rated R for Strong Language, Some Violence and Sensuality

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