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Permanent Midnight

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Permanent Midnight

Starring: Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Hurley
Director: David Veloz
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: September 1998
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Janeane Garofalo, Connie Nielsen

Review by MrBrown
2 stars out of 4

Arriving fairly fresh off the blink-and-you-thankfully-missed-it run of Terry Gilliam's _Fear_and_Loathing_in_Las_Vegas_ is another adaptation of a drug-dazed book, this time a non-fiction one: _Permanent_Midnight_, the celebrated autobiography of TV writer Jerry Stahl. While the resulting film is nowhere near the disaster Gilliam's was, screenwriter-director David Veloz's glimpse at one man's real-life walk on the wild side rings just about as false as that surreal work.

The true story of Stahl would appear to make an intriguing film. While he was a successful writer for such television shows as _thirtysomething_, _Moonlighting_, and _ALF_ (the latter recreated in the film as _Mr._Chompers_), Stahl also led the life of a heroin junkie. This double life scenario does hold some promise, and with the vibrant Ben Stiller playing Stahl, first-time helmer Veloz appeared to be onto something interesting.

Veloz, however, shoots himself in the foot just about right from the get-go. Not content to follow Stahl's story straight ahead, he comes up with a woefully unconvincing framing story. We meet Jerry as he works in a fast food joint as part of a drug rehab program, and he gets picked up by a mysterious woman named Kitty (Maria Bello). Jerry and Kitty hole up at a motel, and in between (and sometimes during) attempts at sex, Jerry tells Kitty of his turbulent life: the out-of-control heroin abuse and the devastating effects it had on his marriage of convenience to a beautiful Brit (Elizabeth Hurley, trying her best in a thankless role) and his once-thriving writing career.

The Jerry-Kitty subplot fails the test as a simple framework, yet Veloz somehow got the wrongheaded idea that this already-weak part of the story could serve as the film's emotional core. Past catches up to present by the end of act two, when Jerry finishes his story and he parts company with Kitty; just when one thinks that's the last of Kitty, act three's focus is on Jerry's inexplicable romantic feelings for her. According to the script, Jerry and Kitty form an unbelievably strong bond during their nights together, presumably due to the "similar pasts" they purportedly share. But one is never given a clear idea of Kitty's past; she alludes to having similar troubles, but she never gets a chance to deliver her whole story (or, at the very least, _enough_ of it). Bello is terrific (she could very well have a successful film career after suddenly bolting from TV's smash _ER_), investing great warmth and humanity to her role, but, still, Kitty never becomes a fully developed character.

The same, unfortunately, can be said about Jerry. Stiller's immersion into the role is admirable (he lost 30 pounds), and as a whole, he turns in an impressive dramatic turn. However, as written by Veloz, Jerry is less a person than a set of tics: shaking, manic talking. It does not help that one is never treated to a glimpse to what Jerry was like before the drugs, thus never lending the audience to a standard of comparison. Even worse, there's no clear turning point in Jerry's story; the film feels like it's missing a scene where he realizes his mistake and decides to turn his life around. While one pivotal event is _said_ to be his turning point, its depiction leaves little of that sense.

I have not read _Permanent_Midnight_, but based on what I've read about it, the film is a pale shadow of what is said to be a work that is quite harrowing and even funny. Of course, what apparently makes the book work even more is that it is all based on fact. If I had not known that detail in advance, I would not have been able to glean it from _Permanent_Midnight_ the movie, which comes off as manufactured and synthetic as most Hollywood product.

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