Ben Stiller takes a dark turn as a pathetic, stealing, drug user in Hollywood in the movie PERMANENT MIDNIGHT. Sometimes comic but always sad and brooding, this movie has 90 minutes of unrelenting depravity, and a five-minute flippant epilogue stating that its main protagonist beat drugs. Including extensive drug use, sexual situations and many obscenities, it focuses on the downward spiral of drugs, rather than the recovery.
(PaPaPa, LLL, SSS, NN, A, DDD, M) Strong pagan worldview of drug abuser; 53 obscenities, 12 profanities & some racial slurs; no violence but extensive self-abuse with drugs; two depicted acts of fornication, one depicted act of adultery, foreplay, & heavy kissing; upper female nudity, upper male nudity & women in underwear; alcohol use; smoking & heavy, frequent images of drugs use including pill swallowing, taking a baby into an area with heavy drug use, shooting up right in front of a baby, smoking crack, & injection; and, miscellaneous immorality including lying, stealing, disturbing images of arguing & broken marriage, & stealing drugs.
Ben Stiller certainly is having his fill of dark and disturbing roles lately. Fresh off THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS, he takes a turn as a pathetic, stealing, drug user in Hollywood. Sometimes comic, but always dark and brooding, this movie has 90 minutes of unrelenting depravity, and a five-minute, rather flippant epilogue stating that its main protagonist, Jerry Stahl (Ben Stiller), beat drugs.
With heavy references to LEAVING LAS VEGAS, the movie begins with Jerry fornicating in a hotel room with a woman he just met, Kitty (Maria Bello). He tells her the story of how he descended to the point of serving fries at a fast food restaurant after being a Hollywood writer. Jerry came to Hollywood with very few contacts, save a fringe writer friend (Owen Wilson). He then meets a beautiful British woman named Sandra who introduces him to the producers of a puppet children’s show named Mr. Chompers. Jerry is employed at Mr. Chompers, but when he shows up to work all strung out and with little creativity, he is fired. Nevertheless, Jerry marries Sandra so that she can remain in America. It is a marriage of convenience.
Sandra continues to do well, obtaining more and more writing and producing jobs. Jerry tries to obtain other work but is turned away. Jerry and Sandra eventually decide to “act like a real married couple” and produce a baby girl. Sandra, however, becomes increasingly frustrated at Jerry’s irresponsibility. At one point, he even takes the baby into a drug den and drives the car strung-out with the baby inside. Jerry and Sandra separate, and, without any real explanation, Jerry presumably beats the habit.
PERMANENT MIDNIGHT refers to Jerry’s permanent darkness, an inability to kick drugs. The movie is based on the popular autobiography by Jerry Stahl and gives an insider’s look at the impersonality and easy access to drugs in Hollywood. It also shows that Hollywood doesn’t keep staff members who can’t show up on time and do the work.
This movie has many, many scenes of all sorts of drug use from intravenous to smoking to pill popping. Most of the movie is one long downward spiral for Jerry, despite the potential for financial success and a marriage to a beautiful woman who does love him.
With a star-studded cast and high production values, this movie is slightly more accessible and less grotesque than FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. It certainly is more glamorous than TRAINSPOTTING, but it does not glamorize drugs. Drugs are not scene as trendy, mind-expanding or recreational. Instead, they are shown to be irresponsible, dangerous, and life and career threatening.
Unnecessarily, PERMANENT MIDNIGHT demonstrates sexual situations and nudity. These sexual liaisons do not advance the story of Jerry’s fall. In the end, Jerry seems to be able to function well and relate to Kitty, but because no divorce regarding Sandra is mentioned, it is presumed he is involved in adultery.
Containing a little comic relief from Stiller companion Janeane Garofalo and Owen Wilson, PERMANENT MIDNIGHT remains a dark and disturbing picture. Reminiscent of the 80s movies which mixed glamour and drugs such as LESS THAN ZERO and BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY, it is a strong cautionary tale to the horrors of drug use. Yet, without spending any time on the protagonist’s struggle to free himself from drugs, nor showing the possibility of divine assistance, the movie glosses over the total story of freedom from bondage, resulting in a slick but ultimately flawed examination.
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