Permanent Midnight Reviews
Ben Stiller gives an atrociously nonchalant, smirky performance as the drug addict. A couple of female characters stand around in the background with absolutely nothing to say. Owen Wilson also appears every now and again with nothing to say.
I imagine that the memoir upon which the film is based has some value. My guess is that the film version fell apart not because the book was so bad but because the project fell into the hands of first-time director David Veloz, who not surprisingly has never done another film.
Veloz just seemed to have no idea how to handle material like this. Perhaps he was trying to do something radical by approaching it tongue-in-cheek. But it is a colossal failure.
Permanent Midnight is a true story that follows the maniacal period of writer Jerry Stahl's life led in double form. Making $5,000 a week is definitely an amount to be defined as "doing well," except for when there's a simultaneous $6,000 a week drug habit that's chasing you around town putting your life on the bench. The film's story is focused on his double life, balancing his job writing for hit sitcoms and a green card induced marriage to British wife Sandra (Elizabeth Hurley) while shooting heroin all day. It's exhausting just to watch, and painful at the same time but yet you'll find yourself unable to look away because of the depth and intricacy of this train wreck. The building momentum of his chaotic addiction reaches such intense heights, that by the time he shoots heroin into his neck while sitting next to his baby in the car, you'll be tested on just how far into the envelope you can be pushed.
Ben Stiller is not one to go hand in hand with serious roles in most minds, but his work and talent portraying his real life friend Jerry Stahl is shockingly gripping, it's difficult to decide which has more strength and potency, the drugs or Stiller's acting.
The one move by the director that I always felt awkward around was the constant shifting back and forth between the story and Stahl (Stiller) telling it to a ex-addict named Kitty in a hotel room. This wouldn't be so rough of a transition if the scenes in the hotel room were shot well and the chemistry was fluid, but sadly enough neither is true.
This is by no means the first movie of an addict suffering through his days, but it is one that takes a unique and effective stride with characters that have some unique flare and incredibly strong acting by Stiller. Showing the dark and horrible sides of addiction, Permanent Midnight is chock full of grit, gritty themes, and depravity, and stands above most films of this nature.
Stiller really transformed into a dark actor with some range in his role as Stahl. And Stiller's effort was needed because the story pretty much centers around him with barely any supporting help. The role to say the least, was very demanding and Stiller did a good job.
The real problem with Permanent Midnight - honestly who is Jerry Stahl? Why should we care about him? And what makes his story any different to any other heroin addict who threw their lives away? The only thing interesting about him is the fact that he injected himself daily with heroin, yet he preached eating healthy and he ran a messily 5 miles a day!
Some of Stahl's writing was very good, with the ever powerful quote "Some stories you remember for the rest of your life, some stories you spend your life trying to forget". But, I feel like Stahl didn't know whether he wanted his biopic to be funny or serious and it falls in the cracks somewhere in between.
Despite a surprisingly solid performance by Stiller, Permanent Midnight really brings nothing special to it's genre. And it never helps when your director (David Veloz) is helming his first ever film.
Maybe if Stahl let someone else re-write his story it would have been better. Perhaps someone who still does drugs?
After publishing several stark short stories, real life writer Jerry Stahl (Ben Stiller) moves to Los Angeles where he lands a job as a teleplay writer earning $5000 per week. Jerry also has a heroin habit that grows up to $6000 per week. The film details his struggle with addiction. The story is told in flashbacks through a one night stand between Jerry and a woman named Kitty (Maria Bello). The film is based on the autobiography of the same name by Stahl, who has since become an accomplished novelist in his own right.
Jerry and Kitty meet at a drive-thru window where Jerry works. She instantly recognizes him as a recovering addict (she is also one) and asks him to get a cup of coffee. Jerry splits work and the two go to a hotel room. After some bad sex they pass the night by Jerry telling his story of addiction. The encounter of these two and the presence of the Kitty character is merely just a convenience for the telling of the primary story, which is much more interesting. The current-tense scenes become an inconvenient necessity.
Jerry?s only connection in LA is an old high school friend, Nicky (Owen Wilson). Jerry lives on Nicky?s couch stealing his illegal prescriptions and taking whatever drugs he can get a hold of. Nicky introduces Jerry to Sandra (Elizabeth Hurley), a British citizen who needs a green card to stay in the country. Jerry agrees to marry her for $30, 000 after one meeting. Sandra works in the television industry, and after reading Jerry?s writing she sets him up with a job writing for a TV show titled ?Mr. Chompers,? a parody of Alf. Jerry actually worked on Alf, but the title and characters weren?t permitted for use in the film. Jerry seems to be a terrible fit for the trashy sitcom, and when he goes into the meeting with the shows developer (Fred Willard), they could not be on more opposite planes. Jerry gets the job anyway; he writes his first script based on his father?s terribly boisterous funeral following his suicide. With grimace, he purges this emotionally distressing event and transforms it into cheap comedy. During the same scene there is a well staged bit where Jerry?s mom calls. Jerry is the only one seen and heard but we know from his dialogue that she is heavily intoxicated. She has misdialed and has no idea who she is talking too. It clearly is not the first time and Jerry hangs up on her. This is the only insight we get into his drug seeking behaviour.
Jerry never shows any external frustration from his troubles, he completely internalizes, and it becomes self-hatred. It really is a phenomenal performance by Stiller. The film is worth seeing for him alone. The scene when Jerry first starts using heroin takes place when he picks up a neo-Nazi (Connie Nielson) from a bar and they use together at her place. She knows he is Jewish and has sex with him for degradation. She is a mirror of self-hatred for Jerry and he becomes a regular user after their encounter, and subsequently addicted. After some searching around he finds a regular dealer outside a methadone clinic, where he tries to get help. Jerry manages to hold down his day job writing for ?Mr. Chompers? even though he is clearly an addict. Although eventually enough is enough for his boss and he is fired. Despite his ever growing problems with drugs Sandra falls in love with him and they have a daughter together, unplanned. She sticks by him while he self-destructs, not knowing how to handle him.
The story of addiction is nothing new to books or film. I have not read Stahl?s autobiography so I do not know how the material was approached in the novel. What I really loved about the film was David Veloz?s approach to the adaptation; not to mention Stiller?s performance. The focus is primarily on Jerry using drugs and seeking drugs. All other events in Jerry?s life just become irrelevant pieces of information that fall by the wayside. The junky?s only goal is to get high by any means necessary and the film portrays Jerry?s life exactly that way; as it was. It is only the scenes before and after his addiction, when he is sober that are translucent. That is what makes Permanent Midnight a great film, the way in which the addiction is depicted. Otherwise, without a doubt this would be the standard (perhaps cautionary for some) tale of addiction, and the struggle for redemption.