Following months of shelf-sitting, I finally watched one of Roche's top five films: After Hours. Directed by Martin Scorsese and released in 1985, this is a great glimpse back at a master of the craft perfecting his art. For example, there's a shot mid-way through of Paul sitting down to have a cigarette, then realizing he doesn't have any matches. When he gets up, the camera follows his hand near his hip as he goes to the cigarette dispenser (that was a thing bars had back in the '80s!) and swipes a matchbook out of the tray, then returns to his seat. Nobody new is sitting at the table; nothing is truly important about the matches or the smoking of the cigarette. But it's a perfect illustration of the odd importance, or oddly perceived importance, of small things in this film. The tension itself is a sort of unreliable narrator, full of blackly amused absurdity on a night of misadventure.
Paul Hackett is played by Griffin Dunne, better known to me from Who's That Girl (#madonnaforever) and My Girl (#MrBixler). He is a perfect Everyman, who is polite enough and nice enough, but also normal enough to want to sleep with Marcy (Rosanna Arquette). Marcy's the first in a parade of great actresses whose characters tease, taunt, aid, and terrorize Paul. We see Linda Fiorentino as Kiki, who apparently makes awesome paperweights as well as unsettling papier-mâché sculptures which are definitely not inspired by that one Munch painting.
Kiki is Marcy's roommate; we later meet Marcy's boyfriend (John Heard) and his co-worker, a waitress having an existential crisis (Teri Garr). We go to a punk club where Paul nearly gets a mohawk and then later gets Papier-mâchéd [yes, this review is basically all spoilers, deal with it] [while we're on the subject, trigger warning: there's a suicide as well], we see what might be a robbery and what might be an art sale and then we see Cheech and Chong; we see Catherine O'Hara driving an ice cream truck with a mob comprised of guys who look like huge Queen fans. Absurdity, we say! But still somehow entirely plausible within this world.
There's a clear sense of the place of this neighborhood (pretty sure it's in Greenwich Village, as they reference Houston St. and another street near a bar I once went to in New York - but it all looked rather different in 2003). The vibe, and the title, point to the existence of a world unknown to the stiffs in offices, but no less populous for being outside the 9-5 grind. It has a Through the Looking Glass feel to it, especially as how Paul takes his fears seriously, but the film can't quite bring itself to, despite revolving exclusively around his perspective. It's an amazing balancing act, which is how it can remain comic but not ridiculous; tense but not scary.
That thing with the close-ups is better described by Roger Ebert in his review: "Because we believe a close-up underlines something of importance to a character, Scorsese exploited that knowledge with unmotivated closeups; Paul thought something critical had happened, but much of the time it had not. In an unconscious way, an audience raised on classic film grammar would share his expectation and disappointment. Pure filmmaking."
It's not my new favorite movie, but it's certainly worth watching, especially for lovers of Bronson Pinchot. (He's in the first scene, but since the movie ends where it begins, you can't help but hope he'll appear again!) #balkiforever