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Viewer Guide: “The Outsiders” and “Rosie Plays Julie”

March 8, 2022 | Richard Peña


The Outsiders (1983).

This week’s double feature begins with The Outsiders, a 1983 drama directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 

Based on author S.E. Hinton’s groundbreaking young adult novel of the same name, The Outsiders is one of the seminal “brat pack” movies of the 1980s, featuring a cast of teen heartthrobs in career-launching performances. Set in mid-1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma, the West Side Story-style plot revolves around the ongoing gang conflict between the lower class “Greasers” and the upper crust “Socs.” C. Thomas Howell stars as Ponyboy Curtis, an orphaned Greaser whose parents were killed in a car crash, now living with his older brothers Darrel and Sodapop, played by Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe. Taken under the wing of his brash older friend Dally Winston, played by Matt Dillon, Ponyboy and his friend Johnny Cade, played by Ralph Macchio, sneak into a drive-in, where they encounter Cherry Valance, an unattainable Socs girl played by Diane Lane. While Ponyboy and Johnny succeed in getting Dally to stop his aggressive flirtation with Cherry, their gentlemanly behavior is only regarded as a serious Greaser transgression on Socs territory by Cherry’s boyfriend Bob, played by Leif Garrett. And later that night when Ponyboy and Johnny encounter a carload of Socs itching for retaliation, the gangs’ simmering hostility boils over, setting in motion a chain reaction of deadly violence. 

Also featured in early-career supporting roles are Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise. 

Taking her inspiration from the gang conflict at her own Tulsa high school, author Susan Eloise Hinton published her novel The Outsiders at age 17 in 1967, which rapidly become a young adult fiction blockbuster. The novel was sent to Francis Ford Coppola by Jo Ellen Misakian, a school librarian in Fresno, California, whose enthusiastic student readers were convinced it would make a great movie. With his Zoetrope Studios nearly bankrupt following the box office disaster of One from the Heart in 1981, Coppola agreed that the book held potential, but could only afford $500 to purchase the rights, offering to produce and direct Hinton’s novel Rumble Fish to sweeten the deal—a promise he followed through on in 1983 with a film adaptation also starring Matt Dillon and Diane Lane. Hinton appears in The Outsiders as Matt Dillon’s nurse, and served as den mother to the Greaser cast, helping to civilize the frat house atmosphere during location shooting. Upon screening Coppola’s initial two-hour edit, Warner Bros. forced the director to cut half an hour, convinced that the film’s target audience would never sit through a movie that long. For the film’s 2005 DVD re-release as The Outsiders: The Complete Novel, Coppola restored 22 minutes and added more jukebox hits to the soundtrack, scaling back the original romantic score by his father, Carmine, who died in 1991. 


Rose Plays Julie (2019).

This week’s double feature continues with Rose Plays Julie, an Irish psychological drama from 2019 co-directed by Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy. 

Ann Skelly stars as Rose, a young veterinarian student whose blank demeanor masks a powerful yearning: adopted at infancy, Rose can no longer suppress her longing to find her birth mother, despite the “no contact” restriction of her adoption papers. Learning that her biological mother was an actress named Ellen, played by Orla Brady, Rose travels from Dublin to London in order to covertly track Ellen down, eventually locating her at work on a film set. Rose later even pretends to be an interested buyer of Ellen’s townhouse. While Rose’s overtures are initially not welcomed by Ellen, relations between the estranged daughter and mother begin to change when Rose learns the circumstances behind Ellen’s decision, as well as the identity of her biological father, a well-known archaeologist played by Aidan Gillen. Finally armed with the unexpected truth of her origin, Rose embarks on a risky masquerade, only to come face to face with the violent truth of her past as well as her own vengeful quest for justice. 

With its disturbing plot elements and focus on shifting identity, Rose Plays Julie has echoes of a kind of Oedipal Greek tragedy, as well as the psychological hall of mirrors seen in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. However, the married producing and directing team of Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor also manage to weave in a very perceptive look at the fragility of mental health in contemporary society. Released in England in October 2019, plans for the film’s U.S. release were unfortunately derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, although the film was eventually screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October 2020. Making her feature film debut in Rose Plays Julie, actress Ann Skelly is currently featured in the HBO series The Nevers. Irish actor Aidan Gillen’s many film and television credits include Queer As Folk and The Wire, and as well as his recurring role as Petyr Baelish on Game of Thrones. 

Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema. 

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