Classics from the Queue: Less Than Zero

I’m going to start this post with a personal apology to the people I have discussed this movie with, because one in particular is a really close friend and I didn’t just lie about having seen it. I think I might have actually recommended it to her. So sorry about that, I really am trying to not do that anymore.

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t have recommended Less Than Zero, I just honestly had never seen more than the VH1 “I Love the 80s” segment on it. But I was right in assuming the Andrew McCarthy + Robert Downey Jr. + massive amounts of cocaine = 80s cautionary tale brilliance. Also unexpectedly (because I only know her as a face who walks the occasional red carpet) Jami Gertz was a wonderful addition playing the messy Blair who both Andrew and RDJ are in some way in love/lust with.

I’m sure this movie seemed fresh and modern when it came out, but it plays like a perfect period piece today complete with shoulder pads, synthesizer soundtrack, and the previously mentioned nearly ubiquitous cocaine. And some of the stylistic choices were grating – I get it Mr. Kanievska (the director) these characters are disconnected from each other – I don’t need constant side angle shots that cause the actors to have a conversation with the camera instead of the human being across the room/tennis court/roadway tunnel from them. I also really don’t need a third (or fourth) extended crane shot zooming over a pool or a desert to show me how empty the environment is, I get it.

But I guess that’s really on me, because I don’t think it’s really fair to expect subtlety from something based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel (which according to Wikipedia is a lot more fucked up and disturbing than this really sad, twisted movie, so I think I’ll be skipping it.) But just when I was about to write the whole thing off as a plastic 80s artifact, the last half an hour happened and I bowled over by the amazing humanity in the performances. Most notably of course in RDJ’s unraveling from a bright, charming schmuck into a sick, shriveled desperate junky, but also in all the people around him were suddenly really believable in their concern for him. (Even his sleazy dealer, played by the always deliciously evil James Spader, seemed like a person and not an evil cartoon.) That one scene where McCarthy, Gertz, and Downey hold hands while he shakes his way through coming down next to a toilet, was one of the most moving scenes I’ve watched in a long time.

So sorry I lied about seeing this guys, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but not so sorry.


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