Comedy writer Jerry Stahl, whose $6000-a-week heroin habit had him taking his infant daughter along on his drug runs and doing smack during TV script conferences. Departing detox, Stahl explores memories with survivor Kitty, who listens patiently to Stahl's flashback. Other women in Stahl's life are his British wife Sandra and his agent Vola. For the TV series "Mr. Chompers" (inspired by ALF), Stahl meets with sitcom exec Craig Ziffer and puppeteer Allen. For freaky freebasing, Stahl hangs with mumbler Nicky and druggie Gus. Written by
After Jerry picks up his daughter from Sandra to babysit her (at approximately [1:01:40]), he can be seen driving down the road sitting on the right hand side of the car. This is not consistent with other scenes in the movie and furthermore, the driver is clearly not Ben Stiller. See more »
You know what's mortifying? Smack is like the leisure suit of the nineties. Instead of wrecking dad's Buick on prom might, these little suburban fucks are coping habits and OD'ing in the rec room.
And you're different, because?
I never got to the prom.
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First, let me apologize for the easy joke in the one line summary. It was simply too easy to pass up. And sometimes writers fall back on easy cliches, especially in headlines.
Actually, make that especially in headlines and in movies about substance abuse. Simply put, Permanent Midnight fails. And it doesn't fail because of the direction, or the writing, or the performances (thought there are certainly serious flaws with each), but because it doesn't have anything new to the discussion. Permanent Midnight on one hand is about the depths to which drugs can drive a man, but it's also about the superficiality of Hollywood. The problem is that neither angle has anything remotely original in it and so barring something remarkable in the execution, there's really no point in making the movie. Permanent Midnight, though, features many good things, but nothing remarkable enough to justify the "been there/ done that" feeling that remains when the narrative is finished.
Permanent Midnight features a framing story that feels made up. Since I haven't read Jerry Stahl's book of the same name, I cannot speak to the truth of the framing sequences which feature Maria Bello as an ex-drug addict named Kitty. I can only say how painfully convenient it is for recovering Jerry (Ben Stiller) to have this blond angel more than willing to hear his story of degradation. Not a moment between Jerry and Kitty rings true emotionally, but at least it gives writer/director David Veloz and entre into the story, not that the story actually goes anywhere. You see, when Jerry arrives in LA he's already a junkie, living with his friend Nickie (Owen Wilson), who's also already a junkie. He marries a British TV producer so that she can get her green card and she helps him get a television writing job. As shown in the film, there's nothing about his life that leads the the progression of his drug addiction. He just gets deeper and deeper and befriends shadier and shadier characters.
There's an arbitrary point at which he obviously decided to quit (since he's clean in the frame story), but by the time we get there, it seems so obvious and so unsatisfying as to make the journey feel wasted. No matter how bad things seems to get, the audience knows it could always be worse, because we've seen worse drug addictions in a dozen movies of varying qualities. Throughout the flashback, Jerry makes no real attempts at recovery and yet only falls to a certain level. He never makes it to hell. Nothing in the film has a payoff.
Much of the problem, then, is in Veloz's episodic screenplay. Characters wander in and out and nothing really comes together. Jerry seems strung-out, but he never seems horrible, so we can't really pity the people who trust him and love him because he doesn't really do any serious damage to them. Everything just comes and goes.
The film is filled with tiny "star" cameos which meet with only occasional success. Owen Wilson and Janeane Garofalo are always good to have around, as is the perpetually psychotic Peter Greene. Cheryl Ladd, Fred Willard, Andy Dick, and Connie Nielsen, though, provide uninteresting one shot encounters.
Veloz perhaps wisely avoids drug movie hallucination clichés. Aware that he lacks the visual sensibility to rival Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Trainspotting, he restricts his flourishes to a single drug nightmare and to boring New Wave-y jump cuts and the like. Veloz clearly sets the film up as Ben Stiller's show.
As Jerry Stahl, Stiller is never less than solid. He makes it clear why people would continue to trust Jerry even with all of his problems. The script, however, gives no indication of the genius that everybody attributed to Stahl, making it difficult to feel that the character is wasting his talent. Stiller, then, is fleetingly amusing, fleetingly harrowing, and always acting. When the character, in a moment of true desperation turns to his neck for an uncollapsed vein, it's Ben Stiller shooting up into his neck, not the character. It's tough to watch, but you feel for an actor on the edge, rather than a character.
So people in Hollywood are so self-absorbed that they don't notice what's going on around them. OK. I've seen that before. And amidst all that egomania, people with problems are allowed to fall through the cracks. And I've seen that before. And recovery is possible? In a one-day-at-a-time way? I've seen that before as well. I kept waiting for Permanent Midnight to offer me something new and different. But it was only more of the same. There's enough good there for a 5/10.
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