Thursday 5 December 2013

Movie Review: About Last Night... (1986)

A romantic drama, About Last Night... delves into the dynamics of the dating scene, and an intense modern relationship sparked by sex but threatened by lack of maturity. The film is a surprisingly raw and pleasurably painful exploration of the highs and lows of infatuation.

In Chicago, Danny (Rob Lowe) and Bernie (James Belushi) are best friends and co-workers at a restaurant supply business. They chase after women and sex for sport, but then Danny meets Debbie (Demi Moore), who works in marketing, and after terrific first date sex, they develop a serious and fierce physical attraction. Bernie and Debbie's roommate Joan (Elizabeth Perkins), a kindergarten teacher, are jealous of the rapidly building chemistry between Danny and Debbie, but they are helpless to stop it. Debbie quickly moves into Danny's apartment.

But then the realities of life start to intrude, as Danny brings his work pressures home with him, while Debbie is eager for the relationship to evolve from lust into love and a long term commitment. With Bernie and Joan doing little to help the lovers adapt to life as a couple, the burgeoning romance comes under stress, and neither Danny nor Debbie are well equipped to navigate the churning waters of togetherness.

[Debbie and Joan are watching from a distance as their friend Pat flirts with a group of guys at the bar:]
Joan: Oh god, Pat's going in for the kill. Oh my! That was a nice turn.
Debbie: With just a hint of giddiness.
Joan: Her big move should be coming up any moment. The combination hair flip with a giggle.
Debbie: There is a 3.2 level of difficulty here. Joan let's see if she can pull it off.
Joan: This is it... this is it... Oh Yes!
Debbie: Oh Yes! Yes! Oh Bravo! Bravo! 9.0!

Within the churn of an overheated dating carousel, Danny and Debbie find a lake of tranquility but go through their courtship backwards, starting with sex, then togetherness, and finally trying to get to know each other. It's a sequence that is bound to encounter plenty of bumps, and indeed About Last Night... is more about the troubles than the pleasures of a couple. Past relationships, work pressure, unhelpful best friends and unsynchronized expectations all crash into the apartment once Debbie moves in, and neither of them is prepared to answer the questions thrown by life onto committed couples.

[Joan is reading a story for her Kindergarten class]
Joan: 'And the Virgin Mary descended upon... '
Kid #1: What's a virgin?
Joan: A virgin is someone who's never had sex.
Kid #2: What's sex?
Joan: Sex is something men and women do to make a baby.
Kid #3: Are you a virgin?
Joan: No.
Kid #3: Do you have a baby?
Joan: No. People who don't want babies also have sex.
Kid #3: What for?
Joan: For about 10 or 15 minutes.

With a longish running length of close to two hours, About Last Night... takes its time in creating four interesting characters. Debbie and Danny are individually capable, physically attractive, sexually stunning, but potentially hopeless as a twosome. Bernie and Joan are much more prominent than the token friends often thrown into romantic movies. Here they play a continuous role and generate a source of disruptive tension, as they maintain the single, searching life while Debbie and Danny embark on a trial of what comes next. Director Edward Zwick patiently builds the central relationship over a period of one year, the changing seasons and succession of holidays marking milestones in a passion born in the spring and already floundering badly by winter.

Refreshingly raunchy in its depiction of sex between a couple who initially can't keep their hands off each other, the script by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue is always looking for the subtle differences between men and women, Debbie's quiet yearning for signs of long term commitment finally crashing against Danny's unexpurgated bachelor tendencies.

And while About Last Night... avoids all frat boy humour, there are plenty of clever touches and sharp commentary on everything from dating habits to the ups and down of friendships as represented by Bernie and Joan.

Bernie: You know something Joan, if you didn't have a pussy there'd be a bounty on your head.
Joan: And you are a schizophrenic, psychopathic, maladjusted social misfit who is clearly in the middle of a very deep homosexual panic.
Bernie: So you want to dance or what?

Both Rob Lowe and Demi Moore deliver exceptional performances, among the best of their respective careers. Lowe captures Danny as a young man swept off his feet but tortured by his inability to understand what comes after great sex. Torn between his old life as represented by Bernie and all the opportunity and mystery offered by a possible life partner, Lowe finds the vulnerability of a seemingly confident man suddenly confronting a load heavier than he can carry.

Even better is Moore, her performance as Debbie filled with determination clashing with disillusionment as the man of her dreams fails to live up to fairy tale expectations. Debbie is less a work in progress than Danny, and Moore conveys a woman buffeted by a near miss: the almost perfect man who may just glance off target.

Danny: I think I thought it was going to be different than it...
Debbie: Than what it was really like? Me, too. Maybe we were just - too naive.
Danny: Yeah, maybe. Maybe we knew too much.

Heartfelt and genuine, About Last Night... is about everything that happens after the magic of the first night meets the cold light of day.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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