Sunday, March 05, 2006

Less Than Zero

Less Than Zero. 1987. dir. Marek Kanievska.

“Calling Mister Oswald with the swastika tattoo…”

By now it has become apparently obvious that I like to rent films that have some sort of reference (be it intentional or not) to music. To make the point even more delicious, the 80s was one of my favorite decades for music. It was such a fertile ground for artists. Thus, as a big fan of Elvis Costello, I rented this film and had a big smile on my face when I saw a newspaper clip with the words “Party Girl” in big, bold letters flash across the screen. There was even a Husker Du poster, which was the second cinematic manifestation of their name I’ve seen on film (the first was in Mighty Ducks 3)… but I’m writing a film review, not a paean to the saving grace of rock and roll.

Less Than Zero is another teenage film. However, it is not one of those carefree films where everything turns out perfect in the end. It is a film about cocaine and crack addictions, the shallow emptiness of hard partying, broken families, and huge amounts of expendable income. This is what happens when the American Dream turns into a surrealistic nightmare.

Clay (Andrew McCarthy) returns home from college to find his ex-girlfriend, Blair (Jami Gertz), and his ex-best friend, Julian (Robert Downey, Jr.), in a dysfunctional relationship. They found solace in each other when Clay left… and they found solace in cocaine. Clay tries to help his friends, but it may already be too late…

Without getting into too many details, this film provides a warning to both children and parents of the 80s. All of the teenagers come from affluent, broken homes in Los Angeles. Without that warmth and compassion from their parents, they end up doing bad things. Julian attracts the most trouble. After running up a huge debt with Rip (James Spader), he is forced to pay him off by doing “favors” for him. Less Than Zero shows the dangers of addiction in a shocking, vivid portrayal.

This is a decent film with some fine casting. Robert Downey, Jr. probably took enough cocaine to method act his way throughout the film. Also, James Spader has that slightly charismatic, intimidating look which he used in many of those 80s films (such as Pretty In Pink). The soundtrack is actually not that great, though. Very much the 80s I’d like to forget.

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