222. Less Than Zero

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Movie: Less Than Zero

Release Date: November 6, 1987

Director: Marek Kanievska

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz.

Tag Lines: “In Beverly Hills, you can have anything your heart desires. You just can’t have it the way it used to be.”

“It only looks like the good life.”

Relevance: I grew up in a lower to middle class Catholic family in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I had a good childhood, a loving family and besides my own inner demonic woes made it through my first sixteen years unscathed. I was quite sheltered from the harsh realities that lived outside of my own bubble, as were most of my friends. At sixteen all I cared about was school, work, driving, going to the movies, music and Madonna. I didn’t do anything I wasn’t supposed to do. So smoking, drinking or having sex was not even in my daily thought process. Basically I was the antithesis of the characters presented in ‘Less Than Zero.’

I did not see the movie in theaters, although I did listen, sing and dance to The Bangles’ version of “Hazy Shade of Winter,” which appeared on the film’s soundtrack. I finally watched the movie via rental in the summer of 1988, probably still listening, singing and dancing to that song. I was seventeen years old at the time and spent that summer before starting my senior year in high school doing all of the normal teenage things kids did back in the 1980’s. I worked, hung out with friends, read my required books for school, listened to music, and watched movies. The only big event that took place that summer was seeing George Michael’s “The Faith Tour” in late August in New Jersey. It was sometime before seeing George Michael when I watched ‘Less Than Zero.’

I was completely intrigued by the movie. I knew who Andrew McCarthy and Jami Gertz were through their various roles of movies throughout the 1980’s. I was also familiar with Robert Downey, Jr. as he too starred in many films prior, but not as memorable as the other two actors. I was definitely a fan of the “brat pack” and Mr. Downey was definitely a part of that crew. His performance in this film really got my attention. The film explores the life of wealthy youth in Los Angeles and their decadent lives glittered with alcohol, drug abuse and prostitution. It was a side of life very much removed from what I was used to. How could I not be intrigued? I watched the film a few times before returning it to Blockbuster. From that point on I was a Robert Downey, Jr. fan.

In 1999, I read a book called “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis and absolutely fell in love with it. Because of that book, I researched the author and was pleasantly surprised there was more work of his for me to read including one titled “Less Than Zero.” I wasn’t even aware that the movie was based on a book, but as soon as I did, I went out and bought it. The book and movie are quite different and I would only call the movie a “loose” adaptation. I love both equally and have remained a fan of Mr. Ellis’s work throughout the years including “The Rules of Attraction” which film adaptation made my list of favorite movies of all time. (see 262. The Rules of Attraction)

Today’s Thoughts: ‘Less Than Zero’ is not a movie I have watched a lot over the last thirty years. However, thanks to The Bangles and Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance in the film, it is one that I think of fondly and couldn’t wait to re-watch again today.

It is so much fun to watch movies from the 1980’s for many, many reasons, but mostly to see so many now established actors in their youth just trying to make sense of the craft. Robert Downey, Jr. is so heartbreakingly convincing in this role. I knew back in 1988 when I first saw the film that he would be one to watch. He proved my instincts to be correct. The rest of the cast is fine with a definite stand out by James Spader. He is a great character actor never shying away from those eccentric, nasty, villainous roles. He plays them oh so well and gives another performance here that I love to hate.

‘Less Than Zero’ is not your feel good film that you want to invite the whole family over to watch. It is dark but also thought provoking. I would recommend a watch for Mr. Downey’s performance alone and also invite any reader out there to read the novel (or any and all of his novels) by Bret Easton Ellis.

Ways to Watch: YouTube, Direct TV, DVD Availability.

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