DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: About Last Night

Monday, 3 August 2009

About Last Night

About Last Night (1986) dir. Edward Zwick
Starring: Demi Moore, Robe Lowe, James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins


Guest Review By Greg Klymkiw

“About Last Night” is atrocious. In spite of this, it provides a few delights. First and foremost, the film offers ample exposure to Demi Moore’s naked body, which is quite splendid to gaze upon with its lithe, youthful, and pre-boob-job-pre-child-bearing-milk-sack-udder-creation-perfection. One also gets to eyeball a nude Rob Lowe and marvel at his perfect bum that is, not surprisingly, much nicer than Miss Moore’s and designed to both worship and penetrate. Finally, we are occasionally treated to shots, unexceptional though they are in both composition and lighting, of the great city of Chicago, which, even when poorly photographed, makes us long to make a pilgrimage to the Windy City and stay forever.

Aside from the abovementioned, about the only reason to see “About Last Night” is to study exactly HOW it could have been a good movie, to longingly contemplate the original source material that is David Mamet’s play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” and imagine a world where something resembling a good movie director, as opposed to the no-talent hack that is Edward Zwick, took Mamet’s words and displayed them cinematically, yet reverentially upon the screen. Zwick reduces Mamet’s glorious, strangely universal and viciously funny play to a simple boy-meets-girl-gets-girl-loses-girl-and-gets-girl-back scenario aimed squarely at that empty generation that embraced the Brat Pack of “St. Elmo’s Fire” as romanticized cinematic reflections of themselves. Mamet’s play yielded a dramatic examination of relationships between young and women in a pre-Generation-X world that somehow predicted the Gen-X experience and furthermore proposed the notion that we can apply as many labels as we’d like to various eras, but that ultimately, the differences between men and women do not really change with time. Mamet’s play is universal. Zwick’s film is dated. One is alive. The other is dead.

This is no surprise with Zwick at the helm. In spite of the fact that he was able to pinch out a loaf of decent celluloid with “Glory”, one could argue that only a complete bonehead would have failed with such stirring subject matter as a Civil War picture focusing on Black soldiers.

Alas, Zwick’s other “accomplishments” are not as stellar as the aforementioned war epic. His big screen efforts are mostly humourless, clunky, turgid costume dramas like “Legends of the Fall”, “The Last Samurai” and the recent entry in the Holocaust sweepstakes, “Defiance” or worse, his dumb socially conscious action pictures like “Courage Under Fire”, “The Siege” and the execrable “Blood Diamond” which prove that even a no-talent can get pictures repeatedly green-lit based solely on subject matter that must appeal to left-leaning studio heads.

Zwick’s primary small-screen accomplishment was the creation of the popular, but annoyingly dated “dramedy” that stills sends shivers down my spine when I think about it, the reprehensibly twee “thirtysomething”.

What this all adds up to is a severe watering-down of Mamet’s delicious savagery. Not only that, it’s incompetent to boot. Zwick takes the opening of the play, a magnificently nasty bit of dialogue between the brutish Bernie (James Belushi) and the slightly more sensitive Danny (Rob Lowe) wherein the former recounts a Penthouse-Forum-styled tale of his sexual exploits. Even now, the language has the power to provoke and entertain. The way Zwick presents the scene is jumpy, confused and frankly, a just plain crude barrage of “guy talk”. Zwick idiotically presents the continuous conversation over a series of different locations. His intent was to obviously “open up” the dialogue – to render it “cinematic” as opposed to leaving it visually intact and (oooohhhhh, dirty word…) “theatrical”. What this does, however, is confuse the focus and detract from the story and conversation’s natural rhythm. Instead of moving the action forward through dialogue which, in and of itself is already action-oriented, Zwick sledgehammers us with unnecessary location changes and, of course, completely unnecessary cuts. All this contributes to destroying Mamet’s great dialogue and curiously, make the characters seem one-dimensional instead of extremely layered.

Uselessly “opening up” theatrical scenes in a movie are the hallmark, knee-jerk touch of true hacks. Rather than trusting the original author’s intent, a buckshot approach to visually presenting the material is used. “Opening up” is extremely unimaginative. In the flawed, but eminently watchable adaptation of Peter Schaffer’s “Equus”, Sidney Lumet allowed Richard Burton to sit at a desk uttering purple verbal ruminations directly into the lens. This was nothing if not “cinematic”. When Mike Nichol’s adapted Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” he wisely kept most of the action centered on George and Martha’s den of verbal savagery and the only opening up that falls on its face are the few scenes outside of their physical domain – most notably the action in the car and the roadside bar. And of course, one cannot forget James Foley’s simple, effective and extremely subtle opening up of Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross”.

Nothing so subtle exists in the world of Mr. Zwick. From the abovementioned opening sequence and onwards, the picture simply gets worse. In addition to spotty performances (especially and surprisingly from a forced, bombastic Belushi and the always sickening Elizabeth Perkins), we’re hogtied to a soundtrack score bearing some of the more grotesque 80s pop tunes.

Interestingly, the play’s original title, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” was dropped when it was discovered that many venues refused to carry advertising with a title like that. So from that point on, it became known as “About Last Night”.

This must continue to be a blessing for Mamet.

“About Last Night” is available on Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

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