I can't remember how it started, but at some recent point my wife mentioned that she'd never seen the film adaptation of Jay McInerney's 80's yuppie touchstone, "Bright Lights, Big City," starring the preternaturally youthful Michael J. Fox. I had seen it upon its 1988 release, but couldn't really remember all that much about the experience. Figuring that it would at least feature a cool shot or two of era-appropriate NYC, I found a five dollar copy of same at that cut-rate DVD shop on Broadway between 11th and 12th streets. Last night, we popped it in and watched.
I remember dutifully reading "Bright Lights..." back in the 80s -- along with its evil twin, Bret Easton Ellis' "Less Than Zero,".... which I inexplicably have a first edition copy of -- but was never especially wowed by either. When the inevitable film versions of both came to pass, I checked them both out. The only takeaway I've retained is that the soundtrack to "Less Than Zero" had more to recommend it (Slayer's version of Iron Butterfly's "Inna Gadda DaVida," LL Cool J's "Goin' Back to Cali," Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise," the Bangles' cover of "Hazy Shade of Winter" and an obscure Danzig track called "You and Me," which I don't believe is available anywhere else). "Bright Lights, Big City," meanwhile, left precious little impression on me, so I was indeed curious to check it out again.
If you haven't seen it, let me save you five bucks, `cos it's fucking awful.
I don't know if I should blame McInerney (who also wrote the screenplay) or director James Bridges, but it's a thinly-written, cliche-riddled string of poorly-composed gobbledegook. The protagonist is unsympathetic, self-absorbed, stupid, utterly unlikeable and a strikingly poor judge of character. The circumstances are flimsily sketched out. The period-specific details are laughable (even in the mid-80's, Michael J. Fox's Jamie Conway lives in an apartment vastly beyond the means of the tenuously competent magazine fact-checker/abjectly failed writer he aspires to be). The entire endeavor is botched, boring, trite and pointless. It even manages to make chemical dependency look deathly dull. I have a hard time understanding how it ever got made.
Honestly speaking, the only redeeming factor I was able to yank out of the film's tepid execution was the fleeting scene of the late-80s incarnation of East 14th Street (Michael J. Fox stumbling out of the Palladium in the early morning hours.... see above). Beyond that, the DVD will make a fine coaster. If you're looking for a telling slice of what 80's Manhattan was like, you shan't find it here.