Cinemax Classics Vol. 1

Remember the ’80’s? Well, whether you do or you’re too young to
care, it’s time to revisit the should’ve-been cult classic “Bright
Lights, Big City” from 1988. Based on a best-selling novel by Jay
McInerney that was written in the second person (As in: “You.. did
this …You woke up this morning, etc.”) the film was released to a
flurry of excitement, then forgotten about. Well, it’s been 30 years
since the release of the film, and it’s time to look back on this
unheralded gem.

The movie stars Michael J. Fox as Jamie Conway, a very smart and
likeable but very unhappy and hedonistic young man. He is an aspiring
writer who works as an editor and fact checker at a New Yorker type
magazine, He hates his job and his wife, a model played by Phoebe
Cates, has left him two months prior without explanation or
acknowledgement. The movie is about Fox’s attempts to keep his job
and sanity while constantly drinking, clubbing, and using cocaine. It
is a testament to the skill of Fox, author McInerny (who wrote the
screenplay), and director James Bridges (“The Paper Chase,” :The China
Syndrome”) that we never know how this struggle is going to turn out.

Fox’s performance is really amazing. Although considered
miscast at the time, his amazing, effortless charm makes his problems
with addiction, writer’s block, a tough, thankless job and not fitting
into the club scene of the ’80’s that much more poignant. Kiefer
Sutherland, as Fox’s rather amoral friend and drinking buddy, radiates
sleazy charm and amorality. Jason Robards has an unbilled role as a
writer gone to seed that is possibly his best screen performance.
Dianne Wiest is amazing in a one-scene cameo as Fox’s mother. Phoebe
Cates is not particularly memorable in her role, but her performance
is the only weak link in a cast that also includes Frances Sternhagen,
John Houseman, Swoozie Kurtz, Tracey Pollan, William Hickey, and
Charlie Schlatter.

The film captures the ambiance of the ’80’s club scene
really well. The music is by Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, and the
soundtrack features songs by New Order, Depeche Mode, and Prince,
among others. The movie makes the night life look stylish but never
fun, and so we understand Fox’s despair.

This was almost a really shitty movie. The studio wanted the
drug use cut from the film and they wanted a happy ending. They also
fired the first director after a week of shooting. Fortunately,
replacement director James Bridges knew how to make a realistic,
emotionally resonant movie, and the result is a film that stands the
test of time. Finally, the subplot/gag about the coma baby is
brilliant! “Bright Lights, Big City” is available on DVD and is highly