From The Parallax Review Vaults: About Last Night… (1986)

The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of About Last Night… was for the “On Cable” section of The Parallax Review.

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About Last Night… is adapted from the much more interestingly titled play Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet. I haven’t seen or read the play, but being familiar with Mamet’s usually cynical tone and musical way with dialogue, I feel fairly safe in assuming that the film — with the “meet cutes,” misunderstandings, and eventual sappy denouement of a traditional romantic comedy-drama — bears only a passing resemblance to the play.

The alliterative couple of Danny (Rob Lowe) and Debbie (Demi Moore) meet at a company softball game. After flirting at a bar, they wind up back at his place for what is intended to be a one night stand. But before long, their fling has developed into a relationship that finds them moving in together, much to the horror of their best friends, Bernie and Joan (James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins). But with their deepening commitment comes problems in the way of jealousy, insecurity, temptation to stray, and the incessant attempts by Bernie and Joan to sabotage their relationship. And this is all before the word “love” even enters the picture. When that magic word is spoken, Danny and Debbie find themselves on shaky ground that neither is prepared to navigate.

About Last Night… suffers from the problems of most mainstream Hollywood romances that want to be “realistic.” For every interesting area that director Edward Zwick and the script by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue try to explore, there is a clichéd scene or character or piece of dialogue that deflates the attempt to step off the mainstream path. The film constantly brings up semi-believable situations and feelings that Danny and Debbie have to face to move forward in their relationship. Their choices, when faced with these moments, could lead to brave moments of honest filmmaking. Instead, Zwick cuts from potentially uncomfortable conversations or confrontations to stock scenes of Bernie acting like a drunken, horny fool or Joan spouting canned speeches about the evils of men. After forty-five minutes, watching the film begins to feel like channel surfing between a challenging indie drama and a bad ’80s sitcom. The incongruity is painfully obvious and jarring.

Despite the tonal problems, the film remains watchable. This is largely due to the fact that Lowe and Moore have a convincing chemistry together that is natural. Despite their seeming incompatibility, I found myself rooting for them to make it as a couple. At the same time, despite the one-note nature of their characters, Belushi and Perkins manage to be very entertaining as the venomous friends who would love nothing more than to break up the struggling couple.

But a good cast can only take a film so far. Zwick does a good job of utilizing Chicago locations that fit the film and the characters perfectly. But despite his attentive eye for casting and location detail, he is unable to make the tonal problems go away and pads the film with at least four maudlin montages that are hurt by the cheesy ’80s synth-pop songs accompanying them. The film is twenty minutes too long and excising at least two of the montages would have gone a long way to keeping it from overstaying its welcome.

Lowe and Moore really made me want to like the film, but in the end, it just doesn’t work. It’s always watchable, I just can’t recommend it.

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