RogerBW's Blog

Diner 23 October 2021

1982 drama, dir. Barry Levinson, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon; IMDb / allmovie. In 1959, young men contemplate growing up, and decide that it's too much like hard work.

Wikipedia describes this as a "bromantic comedy", and I think that's about right: these guys are all about the homosociality, in the last days before the sexual revolution when men's and women's mental landscapes and social lives could still be entirely separate. One of them's got married, another is about to, but there's an overwhelming feeling that they're doing this not because they actually want to but because it's the thing that you do. The film takes us through a few days of their lives without ever bothering to try to engage our sympathy with them.

Levinson was 17 in 1959. I think that may be a key point: for him it's the time when everything was wonderful.

But while these are all profoundly unpleasant people they manage to be profoundly unpleasant in interesting ways. Shrevie, the married one, proves even if he doesn't realise it that what they were all enjoying was the pursuit of sex and the bragging about sex, not the sex itself, and now that he doesn't have to go chasing it what's the point? Eddie, the about-to-be-married one, has a solution to having nothing to talk about at home: he'll give his fiancée a long sports trivia quiz, and dump her unless she passes. (That she doesn't immediately slap him in the face and depart should show how desperate she is, for all we never actually meet her.) Eddie's played by Steve Guttenberg before he became an embarrassing cliché in Police Academy, and he's something of a revelation here in that he can actually act rather than just mug for the camera.

The two really solid performances, though, are led by Mickey Rourke (known at the time mostly as the young arsonist in the previous year's Body Heat): he's annoying and cocky and broken and always assumes he can talk his way out of trouble; he's blatantly predatory, setting up a one-night stand with his friend's briefly-estranged wife not even because he wants to screw her but because he needs to be witnessed having sex to win a bet. That he doesn't go through with it, that even he suffers a revulsion of feeling, is presented as a huge revelation with choirs of angels: he's a good guy now and he'll go and take his beating from the bookie (but of course someone else gets him out of any serious trouble, the universal experience in these guys' lives whenever they're in over their heads). I am less convinced of his reform than the film wants me to be.

And the other is Kevin Bacon, the smart guy (well, smart enough to know the answers to a TV quiz show, but by local standards…) who's constantly half-drunk and self-destructive. Why? Well, he's the one whose daddy doesn't bail him out of jail until the morning rather than that same night that he's been arrested. Boo hoo. But the acting is good.

I see a lot of commonality with Raging Bull here: it's a story about men who barely know how to talk with women beyond trying to get them into bed, and who talk even to each other only in superficialities because actually discussing emotions would be Girl Stuff. Which is why I'm confused by Pauline Kael's reactions: she hated Raging Bull, but loved this, to the point of blackmailing the studio into releasing it wide by threatening to write her rave review even if they didn't. I've read her review, and she makes some excellent points, but there's so much clag in this film to get through to reach the few good bits…

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

See also:
Raging Bull

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