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I think Ben Stiller is one of the most talented comic actors currently working, even though he is often in awful movies (e.g. 'Zoolander', 'The Suburbans'). 'Permanent Midnight' is one of the best movies he has been involved with and features what is arguably his single finest performance. Based on the autobiography of TV hack writer Jerry Stahl, this is a smart, fresh and blackly humorous look at addiction and Hollywood. Stiller has a fine supporting cast here, especially his buddies and frequent co-stars Owen Wilson ('Bottle Rocket') and Janeane Garofolo ('Reality Bites'), the amazingly charismatic star-in-the-making Peter Greene ('Laws Of Gravity'), and comedy veteran Fred Willard ('Best In Show'), who all have small but memorable roles. Hell, even Liz Hurley and Cheryl Ladd are good in this, believe it or not. 'Permanent Midnight' was, like so many other good movies that don't pander to a mass audience, a box office flop, but will hopefully find a larger audience in years to come via video and DVD. I think it is one of the most underrated movies of the last ten years, and highly recommend it.
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.
Most of the drug-use scenes were fairly realistic. Been there and back myself, so to tell you the truth, nothing I saw in the movie made me wince, although there was a lot to relate to. There's a scene where - this really isn't a spoiler, given the context of the movie - where Jerry dumps some pills out of a prescription bottle, and they look exactly like the kind of pills they're supposed to be. Nice attention to detail. One thing that movies never quite get right or, perhaps like this one, simply choose to ignore, are the details of how one actually turns one's life around from being addicted to recovering, and this movie was no exception. We know in the beginning that Jerry has been through rehab, but that process itself, which may I say ain't exactly a cakewalk - and I mean you have to be clean before you can go through it, remains rather mysterious. Oh well, whatever, an interesting, entertaining movie that held my interest for its running time. Some usage scenes might be a bit upsetting to the non-anointed, although probably nothing quite so hard to take as in Requiem For A Dream.
Poor little rich kid, Jerry Stahl, an actual TV screenwriter in 1980s
Hollywood, p***es all his good fortune away through a hefty heroin habit.
Jerry then hits bottom, recovers, and writes his autobiography. "Permanent
Midnight" chronicles Jerry's fall from Hollywood hotshot to junkie bum.
Besides such an unpleasant subject, and an equally unsympathetic main
character, "Permanent Midnight" still entertains, in a morbid sort of way.
It's told in flashback (at the beginning of the movie Jerry's just
rehab and is about to return to his old LA haunts), so we kind of know
the movie will take us. There's no mystery, we're going to watch Jerry's
self-destructive crash and burn in close-up. We're a little in the dark
about what will happen after the movie catches up with itself, but there's
really not a lot of tension. It's like watching a car wreck in very slow
Ben Stiller does an excellent job portraying Jerry, with his craving for the drug rising above, and then destroying, all that's good in his life. It's quite a frightening portrayal. Elizabeth Hurley, as his girlfriend, is a bit of a stretch for both her acting talent and in the casting. But the rest of the cast does fine work. I think the major detriment to this movie is that the audience knows beforehand how it will all end. This is a very dramatic subject, but with no drama in the screenplay. And that is a drag.
Probably one of the best movies about drugs that I've ever seen. An excellent performance by Ben Stiller in one of his most serious roles. If you want to see a movie that portrays the life-style associated with drugs accurately, watch this movie.
Permanent Midnight is the autobiographical story of the life and times of Jerry Stahl. This was a movie that tested the boundaries of what could be shown on the movie screen. Ben Stiller's performance as Jerry Stahl was dramatic to say the least. Stiller's performance was excellent and really showed me the flipside of what could happen to somebody when they get hooked on drugs. The whole cast from Maria Bello to Elizabeth Hurley were solid support for the main character, Jerry Stahl. The real Jerry Stahl actually had a role, which surprised me, as Dr. Murphy from the drug rehabilitation clinic. Stahl recounts his life from a hotel room while having a sexual encounter he met while he was working at a restaurant drive-thru. The way that the director lays out the film is perfect; it is different than what I have seen before. The way Jerry Stahl recounts his life the way he did pleasantly surprised me. I warn anyone who wants to watch Permanent Midnight to brace themselves for extreme drug use by sticking needles in arms and sensual love scenes. I recommend this film for its stars' performances.
Permanent Midnight, while certainly not the best film ever made about heroin addiction, is a very solid film that was largely over looked by both critics and the public. The brightest jewel in this film's crown is Ben Stiller's performance as Jerry Stahl. I found it interesting that while Stiller got loads of attention for getting his "package" caught in his zipper in "There's Something About Mary" (which is a very funny moive) hardly an eye was blinked when he gave the performance of his career in "Midnight." I think this film proves the theory that often comedic actors give the best dramatic performances. Do yourself a favor and rent it.
Although the movie is uneven in both some performances and situations, it's worth watching Ben Stiller powerful characterization of Jerry Stahl. There are scenes very difficult to watch due to extreme use of drugs. It's not for the average audiences. If you like to see good acting this one is for you to watch
Permanent Midnight seems at first like another film you will love. It's
the story of a drug- addicted real-life semi-celebrity, it's directed
with slick style and a fast pace, and it provokes emotion with its
increasingly gloomy atmosphere and R-rated subject matter. The "but" or
the "however" is hard to place, because there is no real reason why it
can't live up to the expectations based on what I just described. The
only real way to say why it isn't the contemporary classic or young
moviegoer's classic that it should be is to say that it doesn't have as
much intensity that one would expect from it. It allows itself to
indulge in the formula elements of a movie like this.
There are formula elements to every genre and subgenre, even the fast-paced stylized biopic and the drug film, even though they don't seem like they would. Why would they? They're usually based on true stories and real lives, or they go in directions most other films don't take. Still, a real life and a true story can still either turn out the way so many similar ones do, or their adaptations do. Permanent Midnight is a formula film of its subgenre.
That doesn't stop it from being enjoyable and powerful on a substantial level. It's directed well and Stiller's performance is fantastic. It's loaded with dark humor, Scorsesian music placement and jump cuts disguised as techno music and fade outs, and attention-grabbing supporting players like Owen Wilson and Maria Bello. If only its storytelling took another avenue, or if only it were tighter and more extensive.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on a true story, "Permanent Midnight" stars Ben Stiller as a
Jerry Stahl, a successful television writer whose life is wrecked by a
severe drug addiction.
Despite a good performance by Stiller, "Permanent Midnight" is a thin film. The life of a writer and the world of an addict are superficially skimmed over, and the factors which lead to Stahl's compulsions are all but ignored. History is filled with writers (Bukowski, Burroughs, Kerouac etc) suffering from addictions, but director David Veloz never cares to ask "why?". Too in love with style and surfaces, "Permanent Midnight" only dives into the head of its protagonist in its last act, when a now clean Stahl attempts to forge relationships with both a fellow detox survivor (Maria Bello) and his young daughter. Owen Wilson co-stars.
7/10 See instead "In A Lonely Place", "Half Nelson", "Henry Fool", "Auto Focus", "Mishima" and "Contempt".
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