Permanent Midnight (1998)



Critic Consensus: Aimless storytelling undermines the gripping, unsettling subject of this film.

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Movie Info

This drama is adapted from the autobiography of comedy writer Jerry Stahl. Stahl's $6000-a-week heroin habit had him taking his infant daughter along on his drug runs and doing smack during TV script conferences. Departing detox, Stahl explores memories with survivor Kitty, who listens patiently to Stahl's flashback.
R (for pervasive graphic drug use, strong sexuality and language)
Documentary , Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:

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Ben Stiller
as Jerry Stahl
Maria Bello
as Kitty
Fred Willard
as Craig Ziffer
Charles Fleischer
as Alien from Mr. Chompers
Liz Torres
as Dita
Jerry Stahl
as Dr. Murphy
Cheryl Ladd
as Pamela
Owen Wilson
as Nicky
Douglas Spain
as Miguel
Jay Paulson
as Phoenix Punk
Spencer Garrett
as Brad/Tim from Mr. Chompers
Chauncey Leopardi
as Jerry at 16
Mary Thompson
as Grandma Whittle
Sandra Oh
as Friend
Scott Williamson
as Gary Warren
Sam Anderson
as Dr. Olsen
Regina Nichols
as Scrub Nurse
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Critic Reviews for Permanent Midnight

All Critics (52) | Top Critics (11)

The trouble is that it's hard to care!

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

Stiller's attempted image makeover, though admirable, doesn't make it.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Top Critic

Wicked sense of humor!

December 31, 1999
Mr. Showbiz
Top Critic

The movie gets credit for not making the high life seem colorful or funny.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Rollicking! A high-energy adaptation!

December 31, 1999
Top Critic

Unsettling and-yes-often scorchingly funny!

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Washington Post
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Permanent Midnight

A television writer's heroin addiction sinks his career goals and his marriage. 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.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer


Stiller in a darkly dramatic turn as a successful Hollywood writer undone by heroin use, and the fact that no one takes him seriously, least of all himself. It proves to be an enigma, hard to care about, and Stiller (oddly typecast) struggles with this contradiction. Moments of truth, like scoring while babysitting, raise this Hollywood message ("just say no to drugs") piece above typical movie of the week exploitation, but only just.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer


"Permanent Midnight" is one of the shallowest movies I've ever seen. It is also bizarrely off in tone and pitch. It is based on a memoir about massive drug addiction, but it's directed as if it's a comedy. 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.

William Dunmyer
William Dunmyer

Super Reviewer

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