Sunday, August 31, 2008

THE MORNING AFTER (1986)

I was excited to receive The Morning After from Netflix. I remember the Los Angeles setting as being one of the best parts of the film and was eager to see it in all its full color widescreen glory on dvd. The main attraction is Jane Fonda's performance which, as is often the case, rises above the material. Her turn as an aging, alcoholic almost-actress is flawless, and it's the one thing about the movie that is above reproach. The film also stars Jeff Bridges, looking rather fair-skinned and beefy as a racist ex-cop who befriends Jane's character after she wakes up one morning in some dead guy's bed with blood all over the place and no memory of how she got there or what transpired the night before. Shades of the Blue Gardenia, anyone? Why yes, now that you mention it...





Ok, so, where to begin? The film has its strengths: Jane's performance is amazing. She's washed up, bleached out, and yes, aerobicized to nothing but bone and sinew, but we can kind of buy it as she's supposed to be a woman who eats nothing but booze. The film's got some comic moments, chief among them a scene in an airport where she's trying to b.s. her way onto a booked flight, which she delivers expertly. She also does a fantastic job at playing an obnoxious self-pitying drunk. There are scenes where she sort of turns on the Bridges character in that mean, goading way that drunks do. It's like, I dare ya to hit me because I'm so obnoxious and drunk. I dare ya!


Jane's chemistry with Bridges is good. They play off each other well and he sort of just lets her do her thing, which is what codependents do when their pet drunk is in the room. Bridges plays this ex-cop from Bakersfield who drops casual racial epithets like "spade" and "beaner" in what looks like an effort to make the audience find him charming. Of course, Jane's character is miffed at the prejudice he spits out, but then, she's just a drunk with her own prejudices, against gays, who appear to be the only fans her character has left. Ultimately, this is a film populated by talented actors who, no matter how good a job they do, can't save this film from being anything else than the giant turd that it is.

What becomes apparent as this film progresses is that, despite its 80s kitsch value (scenes in downtown L.A. loft apartements and Beverly Hills hair salons are wonderfully gawdy in that way only movies from the 80s can be), as a thriller it really sucks. Sidney Lumet just really sucked at directing this movie, and he really sucks at the commentary as well. To hear him drone on about how hard it is to make a good suspense movie is almost laughable. After admitting at the outset that he hasn't watched the film in years (always a bad sign on a commentary track...shouldn't you be prepared?) he then at one point says "Let's just watch this scene play out because Jane is so wonderful in it." Yeah, I already did that you moron, the commentary track is for talking. He's like 100 years old and totally clueless. Sometimes he talks about directing. He thinks he's doing something unique by giving us shots like this one (above), framed just so, with lots of competing colors because that's what L.A. is to him. Ok. But that was probably the camera operator guy who framed that shot, not the director. Other than Mr. Lumet being an incredibly boring old windbag, the story is really bad and unbelievable: the way it unfolds, the fact that Bridges even takes an interest in Fonda's character is kind of beyond reality and they never bother to try explaining it in any meaningful way.

At another point on the commentary, Lumet talks about how great he thinks the score is. Which is funny. Because it's really bad. When it's not "suspense music" it's really sappy soft jazz at moments where Jane's character is being humanized, such as when she gushes over Bridges' Nancy Drew collection, or when Bridges makes her an impromptu candle light dinner. It's used in a very 70s way in this decidedly 80s movie. Ultimately, Jane's character gets back to herself by, what else, getting her hair done. By her estranged husband played by Raul Julia (another great actor in this ridiculously bad film), who's a hairdresser...who's actually trying to frame Jane for the dead guy's murder. Like Jane's bleached hair in the opening shot, this film's a washed up dried out mess. In my book it doesn't even deserve to be a guilty pleasure, which makes me sad cauz I kinda thought it was until I watched it again.

But now let me get to the Queer Quotient. I think the biggest bummer about it is the outright homophobia in the film. The 80s were not an easy decade for gays, and movies like this (i.e. by the big studios) didn't make it any easier.

The morning she wakes up next to a dead guy, she manages to have a good laugh on the phone with her husband when he tells her she pissed off a potential employer by calling her "A dyke. A greasy diesel dyke." Jane laughs, then says "Why would I say that?" "Because she is one. But you have to say it?" Yuk Yuk. I must balance this dialogue with one that was actually a bit empowering on its face: a detective questioning Raul's character at his salon says (about the salon): "It's a great place for a stud...or are you a fag, Jackie?" Jackie (Raul's character) walks up into the detective's personal space and replies: "How bad do you wanna know?" Which shuts that cop right up, and would be kick ass from a gay perspective if Raul's character was gay, but he's not...because a gay would never challenge a straight like that. I don't know, bad gay juju all around in this flick. This film is typical of many from the era in that it goes out of it's way to throw in homophobic dialogue and negative gay stereotypes.

Here's Bruce Vilanch, who's aparently been a shapeless amoeba with bad hair for at least the past 25 years, in a brief turn as a swishy bartender who cashes a check on Thanksgiving day for Jane's character in a gay bar populated by a couple of Village People.Here's one of the Jane character's gays in his God-awful bedroom, nursing a hangover and talking about the fabulous party he threw last night.

Here's an example of the decor in his apartment. Very tasteful and cosmopolitan!

Oh, and did I forget to mention that he's a drag queen? Jane's character needs a new set of clothes and that's why she's there. He offers some comic relief which isn't all that bad in itself, but this whole sequence took me back to being like 20 years old and not knowing how I was supposed to be a man and be gay and I was trying to figure it out and then I'd see a movie like this and it was like so offensive and upsetting. It's like, no, that's not what I am. But is that what I'm supposed to be? Very confusing. In a completely unexpected way, this film took me back (emotionally and mentally and - thank God - temporarily) to a state of confusion and turmoil from my young adult life that I am so thankful to have survived. It also made me kind of mad at the people who made this shit. I suppose you could argue that visibility is better than nothing, but I don't know...I just don't know if this kind of visibility serves any purpose other than reinforcing negative stereotypes. Thank God for movies like Parting Glances, which came out the same year, were far and few between, but were a big help. The gays in this flick are very comforting to the straights of the world, and could be campy fun today to the gays, but since I was there at the time, I don't find them amusing. But maybe that's just me being a humorless jerk!

Anyway, all in all: watchable. Acting good. Direction and story not so much. Director's commentary: Zzzzzzzzzzzz. 80s kitsch factor is huge, but overall...it's a dud.

1 comment:

ayem8y said...

I remember going to see this with my parents. I squirmed with uncomfortably during most of it. I too thought it would have some good ole gay campy moments but there just weren’t any. How could such a cast let this drivel of a script get the better of them? Jane was good with what she had to work with though. I bet she wishes now that she hadn’t let her gay fan base down. I imagine that no one is to speak of this movie in the Fonda household ever.