As a struggling 19-year-old writer, William Richert wrote a coming-of-age novel called Aren‘t You Even Gonna Kiss Me Goodbye? That was in 1963.
In the intervening years, Richert has built something of a career for himself as a maverick film director, with the vigorous Winter Kills (still one of the underrated movies of the 1970s) and the more slapdash Success.
But what goes ’round comes ’round, especially when coming-of-age films are commercially viable. So Richert has adapted his youthful novel into a movie, retitled A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon.
It’s the account of a few fractured hours in the life of 17-year-old Jimmy (River Phoenix), a Chicago kid who wants to be a writer but whose most notable characteristic thus far is his ability to be irresistible to women.
The only girl he can’t conquer is Lisa (Meredith Salenger, nicely grown up from The Journey of Natty Gann); she’s from the wealthy side of town, and isn’t quite willing to go all the way with our heavy-breathing young hero.
She’s going to college in Hawaii, while he means to please his belligerent father (Paul Koslo) and attend a local school. For about 24 busy hours, he convinces himself he’ll throw everything over to fly to Hawaii and be a beach bum. Now if he can only scrape together the cash.
Along the way, there’s a fling with his steady on the side (lone Skye), plus an erotic session with a neighbor (Ann Magnuson, of Making Mr. Right). Not to mention pressures from his folks, with whom he doesn’t get along (he’s written a poem called, “Heredity, Take Your Hands Off Me”).
Richert’s previous films have shared a beguiling rambunctiousness, marked by an inattention to the niceties of logic and structure. That sloppiness isn’t so beguiling in Jimmy Reardon, which never gets on track, although it has some fine moments.
For the first time, River Phoenix is required to carry a picture (he was the sensitive friend in Stand By Me and the son in The Mosquito Coast). Small-mouthed and pug-nosed, Phoenix has the kind of energy that can’t be taught in acting class, and the camera likes him.
But in this movie he barely looks 14, and it’s odd to see him cavorting as a stud poet. Better things are probably ahead for everyone concerned with this film.
First published in the Herald, March 1, 1988
I guess this version was not Reichert’s cut of the film, which must account for something. The distinctiveness of Winter Kills and Success (also known as The American Success Company, written by Larry Cohen) makes it disappointing Richert didn’t have more completed projects. He is memorable, of course, as the Falstaffian Bob Pigeon in My Own Private Idaho, opposite Phoenix.