When I first saw About Last Night... some 23 years ago, it spoke to me, and it's easy to see why. Edward Zwick's comedy-drama put its finger on the pulse of the '80s singles culture and depicted its reckless bar-hopping, shallow mate-shopping, and devil-may-care attitudes with youthful exuberance and abandon. And while I wasn't exactly an active participant in all the debauchery, I fit the target profile and could relate to the dilemmas the characters faced. I was 23 and had just begun dating the woman who would one day become my wife, and grappling with issues of commitment, devotion, and personal exposure came with the territory. Just like Danny Martin (Rob Lowe) and Debbie Sullivan (Demi Moore), I was learning the difficulty of juggling friends, making concessions, modifying behavior, and merging two lives into one. In a world where sex often preceded intimacy, building a solid relationship was tricky business, and there was no guidebook to help plot a successful path.
I'm in a different place now and so is the world. Thankfully, we've all evolved, and as I viewed About Last Night… in 2009, I often felt I was peering into a time capsule – and it wasn't just the hairdos, clothes, jargon, and morality that provoked such a response. Though I never expected the film to speak to me like it did in '86, I thought at the very least it would remain relevant, but as the story progressed, I began to doubt whether About Last Night… would speak to anyone in our current day and age. Sure, the basic elements of male-female couplings haven't changed, but the film keeps the specifics so grounded in another time and place, it's hard to look past them. And with a soundtrack chock full of '80s riffs and rhythms, it's tough to regard Zwick's movie today as anything more than a quaint period piece.
Pretty-boy Danny and his crude friend Bernie (James Belushi) sell restaurant supplies by day, then race to a raucous Chicago bar to pound drinks and scope out sexual prospects by night. While on the prowl, Danny espies Debbie, an attractive advertising assistant, giving him the eye, and after a couple of pithy come-ons, the two fall in the sack. Their voracious physical hunger soon spawns a rocky, push-pull relationship; Debbie thirsts for quiet domesticity, while Dan fights to continue his no-strings, party-boy lifestyle. Bernie and Debbie's bosom pal Joan (Elizabeth Perkins) add to their problems; both can't abide their friend's mate and mourn the loss of companionship the union has cost them. As if Danny and Debbie don't have enough potent issues to hash out on their own, they must also dodge the slings and arrows Bernie and Joan continually hurl at them.
Based on the David Mamet play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, 'About Last Night… was a refreshing change from the wave of vapid Brat Pack movies flooding theaters in the mid-'80s. Despite the presence of two of Hollywood's biggest brats, Lowe and Moore, the film's more adult, realistic tone separates it from such Yuppie fantasies as St. Elmo's Fire and She's Having a Baby. About Last Night… is also noteworthy because it's really a romantic comedy for guys. Here's a light love story with humor, angst, raunchy dialogue, nudity, and f-bombs galore largely told from a male perspective. Of course, there's enough romance and emotion for women, too, but both sexes can relate to the film and gain insights into the other's psyche.
The screenplay merges Mamet's signature rapid-fire, expletive-laced dialogue with more traditional sitcom exchanges, resulting in an awkward mishmash. Zwick's direction is also pretty standard – not bad for a first feature, but hardly visually arresting. So it's up to the performers to pick up the slack, and for the most part, they do. Lowe, of course, is the weak link. He's come a long way as an actor over the course of his career, but back in '86 he was a lightweight Adonis and his artificial line readings make Mamet's dialogue sound stilted and phony. The husky-voiced Moore is a tad better and delivers some zesty zingers, but Belushi and Perkins steal the show, and the film often suffers when they're off screen. As the jaded Joan, Perkins (in her feature film debut) delivers her wicked wisecracks with impeccable timing, while the sloppy, motor-mouth Belushi injects the story with welcome manic energy and props up Lowe well.
For a peek at '80s culture and the attitudes and mores that influenced the lives of twentysomething singles during that era, About Last Night… has merit, but the film offers little else to contemporary audiences. This date movie is definitely dated and doesn't push the same buttons it did 20-plus years ago. Though the attractive cast tries its best, it can't fully rescue this run-of-the-mill romance that, like many of us, may have been hip and edgy once, but is now merely old and tired.
I didn't expect Sony to lavish much attention on the About Last Night… transfer, and the studio didn't. While the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is certainly watchable, it possesses a predominately flat, drab look that keeps this comedy-drama firmly anchored in the 1980s. Grain is almost always evident, and though it never detracts from the on-screen action, it lends the image a soft, gauzy quality that sucks out some of the story's lifeblood. Weak contrast contributes to the one-dimensional feel, which even well-defined close-ups can't shake.
Colors, however, occasionally shine. Red accents are especially pleasing, flaunting welcome vibrancy and excellent saturation levels. Though the urban atmosphere keeps the palette muted much of the time, clothing patterns perk up the picture now and then, but never enough to dazzle the senses. Blacks are okay, but can't come close to the inky depths of better calibrated transfers, and fleshtones look natural and stable. Unfortunately, textures are all but lost amid the grain, and low-lit scenes sprout some noise.
Sony did a marvelous job with Zwick's Glory, but sadly About Last Night… receives short shrift from the studio. It's a lesser film to be sure, and Sony treats it that way.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track beats the video by a hair, but its wild volume fluctuations necessitate always having a remote close at hand. Dialogue can be tough to fully comprehend without a substantial level boost, but beware the '80s soundtrack tunes. When they kick in, they land with sledgehammer force, severely disrupting the track's balance. If you're a fan of Sheena Easton, Jermaine Jackson, and Karla Bonoff, you may not care, but the effect is jarring nonetheless. That said, the music enjoys marvelous presence and fidelity, and provides the only real surround experience on the disc. It's just way too loud.
Decent stereo separation enlivens the front-heavy mix, especially when el trains rumble by. We're also treated to some ambient effects during the softball games, but they don't bleed to the rears. The bar scenes, however, require more punch; dialogue rises above the din – a good thing – but more detail would thrust us into the wild, out-of-control atmosphere depicted on screen. There's not much bass to speak of (although the songs enjoy a pleasant low-end infusion), and despite the level changes, the track avoids any distortion.
Not much in the way of extras, but the fact that Sony saw fit to dress up this catalogue release with one piece of new material is indeed encouraging.
Some films age well, others don't, and About Last Night… falls squarely into the latter category. This Yuppie romance features some winning performances and biting humor, but can't claw its way out of the '80s. Average video and audio transfers and a couple of decent extras fail to spruce up this catalogue release, which only merits a rental.
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