Jack Nicholson's Famous Diner Scene in "Five Easy Pieces"

A poll, inspired by this article:


And by this widely quoted movie scene:

There’s only one question in the poll, but I have a secondary question: quite apart from whether YOU think Nicholson was a nice guy driven to anger by unreasonable rules or an asshole who humiliated a waitress for just doing her job, what do you think writer/director Bob Rafelson thought.

Did Rafelson see Nicholson’s Bobby Dupea as a righteous voice or as a pointlessly angry jackass?

Addressing the primary question: any decent restaurant should make every reasonable request to accomodate a customer. If you have the ingredients for a simple order, you should fulfill that order and charge something nominal. Jack was something of an ass for going nuts (most reasonable people would just say “eh, no toast, this place is a dump” and go on), but the waitress was far more wrong for dismissing his request out of hand. Back when I was a barista, this was a point of pride for me: I was making *your *drink, so I would make it the way *you *wanted it. The concept of someone saying “I have all the stuff here to make what you want with no trouble; I just won’t do it because it’s not on the menu” seems crazy to me. I know some places that used to do this; they’re not around anymore.

Why not both?

He’s being an arrogant jerk. She’s being a condescending jerk. Her snarkiness does nothing to improve the situation. His reaction was disproportionate. If he wasn’t such a dick he would have just spoken to the manager. If she wasn’t such a bitch she would have gotten him. Neither comes off particularly well.

Film’s message: people can be petty assholes sometimes and will happily justify such behavior in themselves.

ETA: This reminds me of Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” speech from Wall Street. It was supposed to be a repugnant message about cutthroat selfishness. Instead, audiences blithely embraced it as the creed for a new era. See the previous paragraph for why.

The waitresses attitude says to me someone higher up has forbidden special orders, she has the weary demeanor of someone sick of denying special orders.

Restaurant person here. I thought the request was reasonable, but the anger was misdirected — it should have been directed at the person who made the rules. Given the time the movie was made, the restaurant didn’t even have the excuse that the cash register/computer didn’t allow entering substitutions/ala carte items.

The fact that the waitress refused to take his order even when he offered to significantly overpay to match the closest approximation on the menu pretty clearly puts the blame on her, and I’m not really sure how it could be seen (by the writer or anyone) otherwise.

5EP appealed enormously to the hippie audience who felt constrained by society’s petty rules, and Nicholson’s Bobby Dupea represented our frustration against that small-minded society. Rafelson was 100% supportive, as were my friends who loved to act out (in both senses) Nicholson’s scene.

The waitress is way beyond obnoxious in this. There’s nothing sympathetic about her, nothing to ameliorate her attitude. If there were personal reasons why she behaved that way, they were not mentioned, so, for the purpose of the movie, they don’t matter.

The point is that she isn’t just going along with a policy, she’s condescending and nasty about it. It’s also deliberately extreme, making her even more of an asshole.

Nicholson’s response it payment in kind, and just basic wish-fulfillment for anyone who has been faced by bureaucratic intransigence.

The attitude predated the 60s: Pete Smith used the same concept in 1944’s Movie Pests, and silent comedies often had people turning against officious authority types.

I still love this movie, but then, I’m a big fan of all of the BBS films (especially Head).

You’ve got a point about misdirected anger. The waitress asked if he would like to speak with the manager. In real life, that’s the thing to do; may well have succeeded. Like Jack said, “I didn’t get my toast, did I?”

The article is suggesting that the joke was on the hippies. Dupea wasn’t cut from the cloth of the hippie. He was cut from the cloth of upper class society. Hippies tended to be anti-upper crust/pro every-man. Thing is, the waitress was the true every man and Dupea was a spoiled high society man, posing as an everyman.

I never saw the movie, but the article makes this viewpoint sound interesting to me.

Both of them are inexcusable.

In life you’ll encounter assholes; this is a given. How you deal with them shows what kind of person you are.

Jack, on realizing he was dealing with an asshole, should have ordered the goddamned English muffin. What would it have hurt him to eat an English muffin? What kind of Little Lord Fauntleroy gets all persnickety about something like this? Bitch about it in the car afterwards and move on with your life.

The waitress, on realizing she was dealing with an asshole, should have at the very least have apologized for the inconvenience. She should have helped him figure out how to order his Very Special Meal. When Jack figured out how to order his Very Special Meal, she should have smiled at his cleverness and gotten it for him, instead of continuing to sneer at him. Bitch about it in the kitchen afterwards and move on with your life.

But both of them chose to be assholes, and consequently we got an entertaining scene.

Jack’s character was not an asshole.

I was in a restaurant that featured mushroom risotto. I asked for some and was told they were out, but they had regular risotto. I asked if they had mushrooms, and was told yes. So I, in my best Jack imitation, suggested that they take some of the mushrooms, and stir them into the risotto. The server said they couldn’t do it. Unlike Jack, I did not cause a scene. I called the manager over and voiced my displeasure. I got the meal free.

The restaurant closed 6 months later. I wasn’t surprised…

Seriously? Seriously, it’s okay to make a sexual insult to a waitress under any conditions, and to destroy a bunch of glasses and make a mess, just because you’re getting subpar service?

He was a humongous jerk.

Out of curiosity, have you ever made risotto?

That would have made for some shitty mushroom risotto.

He made a reasonable request AND he was a huge asshole about it. His rant sounds all righteous indignationy, but the waitress, even as bitchy as she was, is just a waitress, not some government authority.

I’m still amazed at the thought of a diner that doesn’t serve toast!

[John Cleese]

I would like to buy a cat license!

[/John Cleese]

Yeah, that’s actually the most puzzling thing about that scene for me. I’ve never worked in, or even heard of a restaurant that serves breakfast, but no toast. Maybe restaurants worked differently in the 1960s…

They serve toast, but only toasted white bread, not toasted wheat bread, which is what he wanted.

Yes, I have. I know that stirring the mushrooms into risotto would change the taste, assuming they had already made the risotto.