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Thursday, 1 June 2017

Retro Review: Bright Lights, Big City (1988)

Bright Lights, Big City
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Kiefer Sutherland, Phoebe Cates, Jason Robards, Dianne Wiest, Alec Mapa
Genre: Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $16 million

Plot: A disillusioned young writer living in New York City turns to drink and drugs to block out memories of his dead mother and estranged wife

'These Lights Went Out & Never Came Back' 

A miscasting misfire and a conflicted -yet sterile drama, based on a best-selling novel by Jay McInerney that fails to say much about the central character, Bright Lights Big City sees a miscast & baby-faced Michael J. Fox, known to audiences for his lighter fare in Teen Wolf, Family Ties and Back to the Future going down the darker route, playing a druggie and struggling writer named Jamie.

In an attempt to shed his wholesome image and typecast reputation, Fox plays Jamie Conway: a fact-checker for a New York magazine, who dreams of becoming an actual writer of fiction and he's not so much a hero or good guy but more of an anti-hero and a writer, who turns to cocaine and booze, after his wife dumps him, his mother dies of cancer, only to find solace in Tad, who is more troublesome and not someone Jamie really needs.

Bright Lights was co-produced by Sydney Pollack, yet aside from the unsympathetic male leads played by Fox and Sutherland, the direction is threadbare with it really going nowhere at all, and the film becomes mundane and a total drag. The story arc is non-existent and verging on tedium, but for the catwalk scene, I found the rest of the film scrupulously unwatchable. There are no clear motivations or intentions of the characters actions and why they behave the way they do. & despite the plot, it's difficult to determine what Bright Lights is all about and how it makes sense to the viewer. Had it been directed by someone with a clear vision for it, but also by injecting some life and passion, this would have been a good film.

The melodrama would have been interesting, had it not been so bleak and overplayed as it was.

But for Casualties of War, J. Fox has never been one for dramatic performances or roles; he just doesn't seem to assimilate himself well into them: again, going back to his comedies and family-based movies, Fox triumphs - however, with everything else, every other role that demands an out of this world performance from him, he goes about it in an easy-going manner as he does. He's a great person in real-life, but acting-wise, Fox doesn't possess much range and is as one note-ish as Richard Gere. I just didn't feel a thing for Jamie and a role of his type demanded more of that sharpness, grit, believability, unpredictability, frustration and determination: yet Fox just wasn't that actor who could ever elicit those qualities, onscreen. I never really got the feeling that Fox as Jamie was going through an emotional breakdown and turmoil. 

This is one of those films where it has all the ingredients necessary for a movie of this type - but when they are all blended together, its end product is one where one can't make out what it is and what the director and writer are trying to say. 

It's boring and messy that I couldn't make it to the very end of it and with Fox trying to shake off his clean-cut family image that he has built up over the 1980s and was his 'supposed' dramatic breakthrough to prove he can act and be taken seriously as a serious actor.

Unfortunately, in the case of Bright Lights, Big City, this never fully transpired. 

Final Verdict:

Sitting through this movie, it appears that it's not that it is completely horrendous - it just doesn't offer more for it to qualify as a good film, never mind a great one. It was mostly mundane with a performance by Michael J. Fox that would have been bettered with a different actor; someone who could bring that extra something to the film that Fox wasn't able to do.

It is partly because of Bright Lights and Big City's potential as a great film is burdened by his too-likeable portrayal that is both unconvincing and not believable enough that doesn't do this film justice. As well as being offset by the movie's creative differences and a lead character who comes across as being unsympathetic and of whom the more I cared less for. 

Would I watch it again? The likelihood of that happening is virtually zero.


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