Sunday, January 14, 2007

Movie Review: Permanent Midnight 3 ½ Stars

Based on the autobiography of Jerry Stahl, Permanent Midnight is a bitterweet story depicting the downward spiral of a $5,000 a week TV sitcom writer with a $6,000 a week heroin habit. Jerry Stahl (Ben Stiller) is a thirtysomething fast food clerk who “looks too damn sad-looking to be another retard in a pink visor.”

This is according to Kitty (Maria Bello), the attractive former junkie who has just pulled up to the drive-thru window. Immediately, instinctively, she recognizes Stahl as a recovering junkie, his job at a fast food joint part of his rehabilitation program. Almost as quickly as Stahl can reply that the visor is, in fact, red, he and Kitty have retired to a motel room for a romantic interlude. In between lovemaking sessions, Stahl tells her the bizarre tale of his marriage to Sandra, a beautiful TV executive who paid him $30,000 and, in return, got herself a green card. Sandra got Stahl his first TV job--writing for Mr. Chompers (a hilarious reference to Alf). As long as he produced, Sandra and the bosses seemed to turn a blind eye to Stahl’s obvious drug use.

Stahl, of course, hits rock-bottom. The well-trod story of the world caving in around a junkie has become a staple of movies—even a subgenre. Permanent Midnight is far more interesting than that. The quirky relationship that develops between the two former junkies in a two-day love-in is uplifting, even heartwarming. The film continually cuts back to the motel room where short vignettes of giggly flirtation between these two characters serve to set up the next chapter in his story--each shown in flashback. This allows the romance between the two characters to sneak up on us. Suddenly, without realizing it, Permanent Midnight has become a love story. Over the course of his story, Stahl and Kitty have fallen in love.

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