Monday, September 19, 2011

One Night Only: 'After Hours'

One of the best things about writing is the justification of all sorts of random questions and obsessions. Basically, I can ask anyone anything with the vague excuse "it's for something I'm working on!" In the past several months, I've posed these inquiries to my followers on Facebook and Twitter:

1) What were you listening to in the 90's?
2) What are your favorite movies set in New York City?

(P.S. If you haven't answered these, leave a comment!)

In response to the latter, my friend Molly suggested "After Hours," a Scorsese film from 1985. I had no idea this film existed. And I was far from disappointed.

Griffin Dunne - all soulful eyes and charmingly imperfect teeth - plays Paul, a quiet word processor who ventures into a coffee shop one night after work. He chats up the pretty but cryptic Marcy (Rosanna Arquette), and who invites him to the SoHo loft she shares with kinky artist Kiki (Linda Fiorentino). A bizarre chain of events ensues, involving overdoses, windy cab fare, papier mache, sixties-obsessed cocktail waitresses and a heavy dose of paranoia for Paul, who just wanted to hook up with the girl who shared his affinity for Henry Miller.

I love the idea of a single, life-changing night, and so movies that take place within this time frame ("American Graffiti," "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist") have a special place in my heart. It's my goal to write a novel with a one-night timespan someday. Though I'd never want to have the utterly weird night Paul experiences in "After Hours," it's so fun to watch. Scorsese keeps the pace fast and the camera angles Hitchcock-esque as this meek desk jockey sinks further and further into paranoia. Dark comedy is extremely hard to pull off successfully ("Take Me Home Tonight" couldn't do it), but "After Hours" has a nightmarishly silly tone that works.

And it couldn't have taken place anywhere else. The New York City of "After Hours" is dark and gritty, with all-night diners, drafty lofts and grimy dance clubs with basement abodes. It's like a really strange moving performance art piece - yet with a realistic air. I could imagine someone actually experiencing this night, even as the circumstances rocketed further out of the ordinary. Not to mention the incredible cast: Rosanna Arquette almost but not quite annoyed me as the manic pixie dream girl, but luckily Paul tired of her just as I did. Teri Garr's turn as a beehive-sporting waitress made me forgive her for the utterly spewtastic "One From the Heart." (Do not see "One From the Heart." Ever. Even if a zombie apocalypse renders it the last film on Earth.) And for all the "Home Alone" fans out there, Kevin McAllister's mom and dad appear: Catherine O'Hara in all her oddball glory, and John Heard as a weirdly sexy bartender. Oh, and Balki from "Perfect Strangers" is in the first scene. I may or may not have spooked my cat when I screamed.

I wonder if "After Hours" could be made today. I think yes, but it would make the indie circuit and I don't know if someone with Scorsese's clout would be approached to direct. Either way, I'm glad it exists. To me, the film comes across as a love letter to the real New York City, where strange people do strange things and one single night presents endless possibilities.

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