From the Hip

November 10, 2011

A lot of movies, not to mention TV shows, restaurants, tennis shoes, and assorted cultural artifacts, are casually condemned when the work “yuppie” is hurled their way. “Yuppie” has become such a contemptuous putdown that there is almost no defense against it: if someone says The Big Chill is a yuppie movie, there is little for an admirer of that film to do except swallow hard and try to change the subject.

So if “yuppie” has been embraced as a wholly negative buzzword, it is surprising to hear it used as self-deprecation. In a scene in From the Hip, young marrieds Judd Nelson and Elizabeth Perkins refer to themselves as yuppies, thus perhaps making cinema history, and also providing the film with its lone moment of self-reflection: At least these people know what they are.

If these are yuppies, and typical ones at that, we may all be worse off than we feared. Nelson, a Gold Card holder in the Brat Pack (St. Elmo’s Fire), plays a first-year lawyer who is looking to make it big in his dusty, respectable Boston firm. Perkins (About Last Night…), the faithful wife, works with underprivileged kids—even the movie can’t get that one out with a straight face.

The film is made up of two of Nelson’s grandstanding trials. In the first, he breaks most of the ethical rules of the court in defending a minor assault case.

The second trial is longer and trickier. Nelson’s headline-grabbing tactics have the blue-blooded partners (Nancy Marchand and Darren McGavin) asking that the twerp be disbarred. But the headlines also attract the business of a wealthy new client: an academic (John Hurt) described as “a cross between Charles Manson and William F. Buckley,” accused of murdering a prostitute, who wants Nelson to personally defend him.

Nelson goes heavily into his standard bag of courtroom antics—waving a hammer at the jury box, pulling a rabbit out from beneath the witness stand, placing a vibrator in the prosecutor’s briefcase—before considering the possibility that Hurt is probably guilty as sin.

This, of course, prompts the big soul-searching that we are to understand represents the hero’s Growing Up. Phooey. It’s all by the numbers, as the entire film has been.

The unbelievability of From the Hip—and not five minutes goes by without Nelson doing something that would have him thrown out on his keister in any courtroom—might have been acceptable if there were any trace of charm in the movie. There is none.

Nelson, who was appropriately insufferable in The Breakfast Club, seems to be insufferable even in supposedly sympathetic roles. This, naturally, hampers the movie’s efforts (and they are relentless) to charm. The other actors do stock characterizations. Elizabeth Perkins’ lopsidedness may prove interesting somewhere else, someday; and of course John Hurt does professional work as the sinister defendant.

From the Hip is from the hip of Bob Clark, the man who brought us Porky’s. Clark seems to have discovered the right buttons to push, in terms of formulaic plotting and yuk-getting, and so far it’s kept him working. I hope he enjoys his success; it’s unlikely many others will.

First published in the Herald, February 12, 1987

So, yes, “yuppie” was still relatively new. The Brat Pack was always a dumb idea, and Judd Nelson was getting toward the end of his run, and this movie just sat there, really awkwardly, in the middle of all that. But hey, I never knew this: it was an early effort by David E. Kelley, future TV titan with a specialty in law.