By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Don’t stay out late.
Paul (Griffin Dunne) is a single man living in New York, who’s bored with his job and looking to spend his Friday night on the town in hopes that he might hook-up with an attractive woman. While at a late night cafe he meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) who tells him that she lives with a sculptress who makes and sells paperweights. Paul decides to use the excuse that he wants to buy one as his ruse to go over to her apartment in hopes of ‘getting lucky’. Yet when he arrives things quickly become surreal where everybody he meets behave in strange ways making his night-on-the-town a nightmarish event.
The film is based on a screenplay by Joseph Minion, who has written two other produced screenplays 1999’s On the Run and 1991’s Motorama that play off the exact same theme, and was done for the screenwriting class that he was taking at Columbia University, which got the attention of Dunne who optioned it as a project he felt would be a perfect fit for his acting style. Unbeknownst to him though was that the first part of it was based on a 30 minute-monologue piece called ‘Lies’ written by Joe Frank and broadcast on NPR radio in 1982 and when the film came out the studio was forced to pay Frank an out of court settlement because of it.
Many have felt the film’s theme is Paul’s emasculation by all the women that he meets, and to an extent that’s probably true, but for me I found it more interesting to see how despite the film’s surreal quality it’s still not that far off from truth. It’s like going out on a first date with a really attractive person who your’e excited about only to find as you get to know them that they’re really screwed-up, or meeting a new group of people who you initially think you have something in common with only to learn as you talk to them that you really don’t. It also nicely satirizes the hip/happening patrons of the club scene who walk around with a perpetual arrogant attitude of coolness, but in reality are quite hollow.
The production was filmed at night, which forced the crew to work for 10-straight weeks from sundown to sun up and then catch-up with their sleep during the day, but the effort was worth it as it helps create this underworld feel with no connection to the ‘proper’ daytime one. I also loved how it tries to explore New York’s club scene and the artsy SoHo district with all the eccentric personalities that make up that subculture, which helps to make New York the unique place that it is and which gets criminally ignored in most other movies that take place there.
The acting is excellent with everyone perfectly cast although the scenes I enjoyed the most involved Dunne’s exchanges with some lesser known performers like Murray Moston as a subway attendant and Clarence Felder as a nightclub bouncer. Credit must also go to Dunne himself who plays the normal guy role perfectly. Had he been too over-the-edge with it, or too nerdy it wouldn’t have worked as the character had to be someone the viewer could relate to while behaving/reacting to things in plausible ways in order to feed off the paradox that the more rational he was the more irrational everything else around him became.
The ending proved to be the toughest part for director Martin Scorsese to implement. Originally Dunne’s character was driven away in the van still trapped in a the plaster sculpture that Gail (Verna Bloom) had put him in, but this got a negative response from the test audience, so they then considered having Dunne crawl into Bloom’s womb to hide and then getting ‘reborn’ out on the highway, but that was too bizarre.
The one that they finally came up with, which was suggested by director Michael Powell who came on as a consultant, has Dunne ending up at the office where he worked, which has added irony since most offices are boring places that people usually can’t wait to get out of. However, it never shows how these experiences changed him and a scene should’ve been added showing Dunne afraid to ever leave and continuing to work late in the night after everyone else had gone before finally getting dragged out by the security guards.
The film also fails to explain how Dunne ever got back into his apartment since the bartender (John Heard) had taken his keys to his place earlier. A good alternative ending would’ve had Dunne falling out of the van not at the office, but at his apartment instead where he would’ve then be let in by his landlord. He would fall asleep in his bed feeling safe only to awaken with everyone that had been chasing him earlier now standing around his bedside having been let in by the bartender with the keys.
Overall this is the type of film that you wished had gone on longer as it gets funnier the more it goes on. My only quibble is that Dunne should’ve been forced to get the Mohawk when he was at the club as seeing him with one would’ve accentuated his beaten down mindset and made his appearance when he returned to work even more absurd.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: September 11, 1985
Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes
Director: Martin Scorsese
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD, YouTube