Scan the credits of About Last Night …, and you can start to see “sellout” written all over it. Here’s a film adaptation of a play by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Mamet, but the screenplay has been written by a former Saturday Night Live Not Ready for Prime Time Player.
Not only that, the leads are played by a pair of Hollywood’s Brat Packers, and we all know how shallow and callow they are, right?
Then there’s the title switch, from Mamet’s marvelous Sexual Perversity in Chicago to the utterly innocuous About Last Night …. Sounds like the work of some soulless studio weasel, doesn’t it?
Well, all those things are warning signs, all right. But warning signs alone do not a film make. It turns out that About Last Night … is a thoroughly decent attempt to make some sense out of modern manners and morals. It doesn’t always succeed, but it provides quite a few sincere observations and some memorably spiky dialogue.
The story revolves around Danny (Rob Lowe), a laid-back, non-committal sort who hangs around in bars with his buddy Bernie (James Belushi) and enjoys the no-strings life of one-night-stands.
Then he meets Debbie (Demi Moore) who, naturally, is different. They become an item and move in together, much to the chagrin of both Bernie and Debbie’s roommate, Joan (Elizabeth Perkins). These two, who loathe each othe, share a common goal: to break up Dan and Debbie. Which, eventually, they do.
That’s as much of a plot as there is. Nothing particularly special; we know the movie is going to head toward Danny’s eventual growing up, acceptance of responsibility and all that jazz. As such, the film does fall prey to creeping conventionality, although there’s a clear effort by the filmmakers to try to avoid a sugary happy ending. (They don’t, not quite.)
But the script, by Tim Kazurinsky (Saturday Night Live alumnus, who also has a funny cameo here) and Denise DeClue, creates some good diversions along the way. There is much biting interplay among the main foursome, and Belushi – who also played his role onstage – gets some of the most unrepentantly sexist lines in recent memory.
The film begins with a soaring Belushi monologue about an unlikely sado-masochistic encounter that gets the film off to a hilarious start. He’s fine, and the movie doesn’t go too far in making him do a personality turnaround (many movies these days would have him renounce his Neanderthal ways before the fade-out).
Rob Lowe still seems ill at ease much of the time. He actually handles the big dramatic moments better than the simple business of walking across a room.
But if the movie is held together at all, it’s by Demi Moore, who exudes a fierce authenticity. When things start to lag – and they do from time to time – Moore can be counted on to deliver some small dose of truth.
Television veteran Edward Zwick directed (he did the taut TV-movie Special Bulletin), with a good deal of care, and quite a bit of sexiness. The film has some genuinely steamy scenes, unlike last year’s similar (but much worse) St. Elmo’s Fire, also with Lowe and Moore, which chickened out in the clutch (so to speak).
Zwick’s big failing is the inclusion of a bunch of songs, for the purpose of tethering the film to a hit album (just like – yep – St. Elmo’s Fire, which, come to think of it, was topping the record charts while the movie was slipping out of sight). Even with that, About Last Night … should turn out to be the ideal date movie of the summer.
First published in the Herald, July 1986
I’m not sure a friend and fellow Seattle critic every forgave me for admitting that I thought this movie was pretty good. I suspect I would not be as keen now. Moore‘s performance makes you wonder what she might have done if she’d decided to stick with acting instead of whatever it was she did. This was Elizabeth Perkins’ first movie. Special Bulletin was a TV-movie that took the Orson Welles/War of the Worlds approach to a story about a nuclear incident. Zwick went on to do the TV show thirtysomething with his writing partner Marshall Herskovitz, and then go back into big-movie directing. By the way, IMDb has dropped the ellipsis from the title of this movie, and also capitalizes thirtysomething, so Zwick is having trouble there.