Permanent Midnight Reviews
It may seem odd now to think of Ben Stiller in a role like this, but early in his career he was much more of a risk taker, and he's phenomenal in this role. More attention paid to the terrific work he did here and in other earlier, darker films might have led to him choosing more dramatic roles and the world may have been spared one more moronic comedy. Unfortunately, that never happened.
This is one of the most unflinching, rawest films on the subject of drug addiction in recent memory, not shying away from showing just how ugly and desperate people become. The film never glamorizes its subject matter, and there are plenty of characters here, written smartly, who see through Stiller's facade. It's refreshing to see.
I also appreciated the unique structure of the film, opening at the story's end and relating Stiller's descent through flashbacks. The technique can be flashy and distracting, but it works here. There's nothing at all that's flashy about this picture. "Permanent Midnight" is human and compassionate, but at the same time honest and uncompromising. Stiller's character is unsympathetic but it's perhaps the best performance of his career. It's a trendy story starkly told.
Usually I give no credence to people who say that a protagonist needs to be "likable." No, s/he doesn't have to be likable; s/he has to be interesting. But after watching Permanent Midnight, I can at least see an example of why likable protagonists make storytelling a little easier.
Jerry Stahl, as played by Ben Stiller, is a morose heroin addict who does anything to get his fix. Unlike other depictions of addiction, Permanent Midnight doesn't romanticize any aspect of Stahl's life, and as a result, there's nothing to like about him. I'm left wondering why people like him or want to hire him for anything. Sandra, Stahl's wife, comes off as a dull, blind idiot, as portrayed by the film. Because we in the audience can see no redeemable quality in Stahl and because the film's characters don't point out anything unique about him, it's easy to give up on his plight.
Stiller does play a convincing dramatic part, but he fails to lend his natural good humor to this character.
Overall, there's nothing new about heroin addiction or Hollywood in this film, but it did teach me a little something about whether or not I should dismiss most of what is said in a creative writing workshop.