Here’s how you look when you’re Susan Sarandon and you’re at the opening-night party for your new gals-with-guns-on-the-road movie, Thelma & Louise, and you’re 44 years old and the mother of two and you’re known for your smoky sexuality, which, at least in Hollywood, is considered a Breakthrough for Older Women and a sign of hope for first wives everywhere:You wear a low-cut, check-out-the-breasts tank top and a narrow check-out-the-legs miniskirt and a funky jacket embroidered with vaguely Southwest motifs. And cowboy boots. You flash your big Bette Davis eyes and toss your tousled auburn hair and knock out a few happy hoedown kicks. You goof in an affectionate, sisterhood-is-powerful way with your swanny kid-sister of a costar, Geena Davis. You noodle your live-in sweetie, Bull Durham costar Tim Robbins.
And when journalists stick tape recorders under your nose and ask you, ”Will this movie change Hollywood’s attitude toward women as big box office draws?” you answer, ”Nope.” Or ”No way.” Or something equally hard-boiled — something that shows you know the limits of sexual equality in an industry where Out of Africa was considered Robert Redford’s movie, not Meryl Streep’s. Then you smile. And you turn your remarkable high beams on everyone who approaches, causing folks to fall back and ogle and say, Wow. This babe owns the road.
Susan Sarandon is at the wheel in Thelma & Louise all right — in a metallic green ragtop ‘66 T-bird, to be exact. As Louise, the waitress with the neat beehive hairdo whose take-charge competence hides a secret mess in her past, Sarandon is in the driver’s seat for much of the journey, whipping over long ribbons of road through spectacular Southwestern landscapes. Setting off on a girls-only weekend with her best friend, Thelma —a cowed and complaisant housewife with an apoplectic bully for a husband — Louise sets the duo on an irrevocable path when Thelma is nearly raped. She kills the guy with Thelma’s gun, in a white-hot moment of icy fury. Pretty soon the two are outlaws on the run, hurtling toward fate in the middle of the desert.