When deciding what film to review next, the editorial board here at JPFmovies decided to follow our 1980s Brat Pack lead of the Breakfast Club with a far darker movie involving sex, money, drug abuse and well . . . It is a bit telling that Robert Downey Jr., was one of the stars of this film given his recurring substance abuse problems—After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapses, Downey, while incarcerated, had to be released from prison during the day to finish a film he was in the middle of making. He claims (and since 2001 there has been no evidence to the contrary) to have left his substance abuse problems behind. We here at JPFmovies sincerely hope he has beaten those demons down and out of his life. Well, enough of that, let’s get to the film.
The cast of Less than Zero were part of the 1980s “Brat Pack”; however, this is hardly your typical Brat Pack film. It is much darker, grittier and tragic than any John Hughes film (i.e. Pretty in Pink and the like). Very loosely based on Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of the same name (note he was also author of American Psycho), Easton Ellis himself wasn’t too happy with this film at first, but he mentions that it has grown on him over the years. The book was much darker. Andrew McCarthy’s character “Clay,” as we shall see, was altered the most. In the book, Clay’s behavior was not as cut and dry as in the film. In the novel, Clay is a user as well, plus he is bisexual. The studio decided to eliminate both perspectives because they needed a character that audiences could sympathize with, and, in the book, Clay wasn’t the all American he is portrayed as in the film. Naturally, the studio went and changed Clay around to appease teenage Andrew McCarthy fans.
The film that was shot was far edgier than what ended up on screen. It was ultimately taken away from its director, denying Marek Kanievska the final cut. This is textbook behavior for a studio that gets nervous about selling a film with an edgy subject manner. Chicken shits! As anyone who follows JPFmovies knows, this is one of our biggest pet peeves, and we firmly believe that such a lack of courage is one of the main factors that has led to the collapse of American cinema.
The story begins with three rich, happy, wide-eyed teenagers graduating from high school. Julian (Robert Downey Jr.) is skipping college and starting “Tone Deaf Records,” a label financed by his wealthy father; Blair (Jami Gertz) is foregoing college to pursue a modeling career; and Clay (Andrew McCarthy) is heading out east to an unnamed ivy league school. The movie essentially takes place when Clay comes home for Christmas break. Upon Clay’s return, he finds that his high school girlfriend, Blair, has become addicted to cocaine and has been having sex with his high school best friend, Julian. Julian, whose life has really taken a turn for the worse, after his startup record company falls apart, has become a drug addict, cut off by his family for stealing to support his habit and reduced to homelessness. Julian is also being hassled by his dealer, an old classmate named Rip (James Spader), for a debt of $50,000 that he owes to him.
Clay’s relationship with Blair rekindles and Julian’s behavior becomes more unstable. His addiction is worsening and, since he does not have the money to pay off his debt, Rip forces him to become a male prostitute to work off the debt. After suffering through a night of withdrawal and hiding from Rip, Julian decides to quit and begs his father (Nicholas Pryor) to help him. He then tells Rip his plans for sobriety, which Rip does not believe; Rip forces Julian back into doing drugs and hooking. Clay finds Julian and rescues him; after a violent confrontation with Rip and his henchmen, Clay, Julian and Blair all escape in Clay’s awesome Corvette and they begin the long drive through the desert so Julian can attempt to achieve sobriety once and for all. However, the damage has already been done; the next morning Julian dies from heart failure in the car.
After Julian’s funeral, Clay and Blair are sitting on a cemetery bench reminiscing about him. Clay then tells Blair he is going back east and wants her to go with him, to which she agrees. We see the snapshot of the three of them at graduation—the last time all three of them were ever happy together. In our opinion, Blair is the worst actor in the film.
Less Than Zero is a wonderfully strange movie. It’s a beautiful looking film about some very ugly things. It deals with issues of drug abuse and empty lifestyles while the acting is so well done, the takes and compositions so great to look at. But for every beautiful scene in the film there is an equally dark nihilistic shot where we watch Julian experience the deep suffering that serious drug addiction can lead to: homelessness, desperation, lies and eventually the ultimate self-destruction: death.
When you watch this film, and we here at JPFmovies recommend that you do, be ready for a film with characters that you probably won’t like very much, selfish characters only looking out for their own personal satisfactions, especially given the evolution of the careers of these familiar faces we see today.