Based on the popular novel by Fannie Flagg (a former actress who wrote the screenplay for and has a quick cameo in this film), "Fried Green Tomatoes" is an enjoyable film for the "Steel Magnolias" crowd, though a bit grittier.

But the film's framing device — two parallel stories, one set in the present day and the other set in the '30s — is awkward at best.

Kathy Bates plays a bored Alabama housewife. Her children are grown and gone, her husband takes her for granted and she's subsisting on a steady diet of candy bars.

Then one day, while her husband is visiting his irascible aunt in a Birmingham nursing home, Bates meets another resident there, played by Jessica Tandy. And before she knows it, Bates is reveling in Tandy's stories about growing up in the little town of Whistle Stop and two disparate young girls (Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker) who become friends.

Visiting on a regular basis becomes an important part of Bates' life, and Tandy's stories, about these young Southern gals taking hold of their lives at a time when it was deemed improper, has a profound effect on her. Bates starts exercising, watching her calorie intake and standing up to her husband.

The film goes back and forth between the very broad cartoon comedy of Bates' escapades (at one point she rams a car in a parking lot because the driver deliberately takes her parking space) and the decidedly more serious and involving story of the young girls during the Depression, which has Parker marrying an abusive jerk and Mas-terson rescuing her — temporarily. The latter also has a subplot about racist violence.

Needless to say, these two story-lines don't mix very well, and as the flashbacks become more and more involving, the modern-day story becomes tiresome and even annoying.

That's really too bad, not just because Bates and Tandy are a most enjoyable pairing, but because the film could otherwise be much more compelling.

As it is, it's still pretty compelling.

"Fried Green Tomatoes" manages to be most entertaining most of the way and boasts a bevy of wonderful performances. (Though why Cicely Tyson is wasted in her thankless role is puzzling.)

It is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and vulgarity.