Less than Zero and later, investigation in2 Robert Downey Jr’s history with the law

The trick writing is going to be making it through without sudden urges of bawling like a complete idiot, making it impossible to continue. I mean, this movie is a trip, but suppose I had seen it a couple years ago, it might not have been as painful.

Strictly speaking, if I hadn’t known Robert Downey Jr. like I do now and incredibly respect him and such, I probably wouldn’t have taken this to heart and let yet another movie swallow me up and leave me completely numb afterwards.

The breaking down thing, I’m sure the last time, was “Remember Me.” But the numbness I felt after bawling my eyes out with the end of this movie has more common to the feeling I had after watching “Platoon.”
For the mere interest of the actors and characters, I will likely be able to see “Remember Me” again. The soonest possibility, I’d already mentioned, will probably be the 10th anniversery of 9/11, but it will actually have more relevence and meaning than the event originally had.
I had wanted to see Platoon for a number of reasons. The two biggest were, well, Tropic Thunder had spoofed it maybe in the slightest (i.e. Ben Stiller’s pose before he collapses was Willem DaFoe when he was killed by the lead in command from the other camp). Now it wasn’t so much because I like Willem DeFoe as the fact that he died in vain… for pretty much all the wrong reasons.

I came into the movie only knowing a couple of things. Andrew McCarthy’s face was probably the only one I recognized from the music video that led my curiosity in this particular direction. The first time I saw him in a movie was “St. Elmo’s Fire,” which I’ll probably have to see again anyway… mainly because I made a promise to one of my aunts. She wanted my take on it and “Pretty in Pink” because, apparently, she values my opinion about movies. I guess I’m just that good with words and I herald John Hughes as a saint with the films he’s written and/or directed.

I didn’t care much for “St. Elmo’s Fire” or “Pretty in Pink” because, I don’t know, I guess they didn’t do it for me like The Breakfast Club. Sixteen Candles is probably the closest of these brat pack movies as far as the overall feel of it. It’s pretty ironic how all of these movies have similar personalities and the same actors.

To this day, I have seen five Andrew McCarthy movies: Weekend at Bernie’s (LOVE it) I and II (not so much, it was kinda lame in comparison), Pretty in Pink (I need to see it through once more to be sure on how I feel about it), Mannequin (I vaguely remember liking it, but again, worth another shot)… and Less than Zero will join the list.

I don’t know… I “like” Andrew McCarthy on Facebook, he was one of the first pages I “like”d actually. Strange as it sounds, I don’t remember why that was. Was it because I like in Weekend at Bernie’s? Was it after seeing him in Royal Pains and thought he’s still good looking for a guy now in his 40’s/50’s… ah hell, I don’t even know old he is. But aside from a few wrinkles and change in hair color, he looks the same as he did in the 80’s. Anthony Michael Hall comes to mind because of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science… but if anything, I believe Andrew McCarthy is THE brat packer… say, the male equivalent of Molly Ringwald, John Hughes’s muse for many of his films. The funniest thing is that all of these characters have shared screen time.

I think after last night, I might be have to swear off watching RDJ in 80’s movies… but I caught the first hour of the movie “The Pick-up Artist” with him as a casanova and Molly Ringwald being his co-star… out of an obligation for me to see as many of his movies as I can, I feel like I need to regardless of how weak a film it looks. I don’t know the ending, but it seems obvious that he and Molly Ringwald will end up together.

She, in turn, co-starred with Andrew McCarthy in ‘Pretty in Pink,’ and they end up together in the end. I don’t know… I feel like it doesn’t seem right, maybe that’s why I didn’t like the movie quite as much… after the crap that happened (implicited by James Spader, a real thorn in my side lately in his brat pack movies), I thought Andy and Ducky were going to end up happily ever after in the end. I mean… he’d been swooning over her his whole life and she leaves him for another guy? Andrew McCarthy or not, I don’t quite buy it. Meaning I need another look-see, preferably with no interruptions outside of commercial breaks. I went to watch it on VH1 Classic and I got a phone call that caused me to miss the first 40 minutes. The lack of continuity I had got in the way of things, more or less.

Much to my dismiss, there isn’t a sign of any of these movies on TV for the next several days, so my quest to re-evaluate some of them will have to wait.

As far as coming of age films goes, St. Elmo’s Fire is probably the most adult of the brat pack movies. But I’ll bite this next part before it haunts me later on… Less than Zero seems like a coming of age film, but I’m not sure if I completely agree. It is much more adult… MUCH more… but there was too much self-destruction for me to really deliberate on that further.

So, I came into the movie with only a couple of bits of knowledge.

  • It stars Andrew McCarthy (I found out later on that RDJ was there too)
  • It’s rated R and has something to do with drugs… drugs are involved
  • Hazy shade of Winter by The Bangles was on the soundtrack

Though it is against my better judgement, I think I will watch the video on YouTube to bring back what brought me to watch the movie in the first place. The only two things I remember were a scene with a car driving on a highway and an outdoor scene with people dancing around a giant swimming pool in front of a mansion.

To brace myself, I have set to go footage from Inside the Actor’s Studio with RDJ… it was filmed I’m guessing in the mid 2K’s, perhaps before Tropic Thunder and after Iron-Man.

Holding my breath… here I go…

As always, it’s never as bad as you think its going to be. Yes, it still is a kick-ass music video. So long ago… omg, I’m guessing its been 15 years. But I remember being maybe 12 or 14 and I watched the VHS full of 80’s videos and I played this one a lot… once or twice, on repeat. One thing I definitely remembered were the rooms full of TV’s and playing with the tone of light used throughout the different shots.

I can’t say I’m a movie connessiuer, but parts of that were actually coming out as I was watching this. Certain scenes, I didn’t believe they were filmed correctly or just seemed remotely pointless.

So I’m going to go into a play-by-play of my watching the movie, so I’ll add the whole SPOILER ALERT before I get going.

You have been warned.

 

The movie starts at a high school graduation. Three friends, Clay, Blair and Julian (Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz and RDJ… this happens to be the first movie where he is credited as Robert Downey Jr, rather than Robert Downey) are saying their goodbyes and such.

Six months go by…
considering all of the crap happens from this point on, I went into this not completely believing the time frame. Okay, I get the whole part that it takes place after that graduation, Clay went off the college and is back for Christmas holiday… but seriously, six months afterwards. It seemed a little rushed. Like, there’s no way Julian could get into this much trouble that quick… but as I started to watch the movie and get into it more, I started to believe it could happen.

It is established early on that alienation had occurred between Clay and his two friends. He and Blair were going to get an apartment together, I assume in New York… the east coast to their LA. But she got the modeling job and didn’t want to go. Then he finds his two friends in bed together and they don’t talk for a couple months. Their story is that both of them needed somebody after he left… that’s been done so many times, but as Clay believes, I believe that was just too convenient.
That whole flashback scene is shot in black & white and after seeing the music video, I remember seeing it where Blair and Julian are found in bed together.

Also it is said at graduation that Julian is starting work as a record producer.

Blair calls Clay and wants to see him. He flies over for the holidays and soon finds out that it was more that Julian needed him than she did.

The opening credits are shown while they’re playing the Bangles track. Which, by the way, I found out to be a cover of Simon & Farfunkel… far out, man, that’s insane. I do kinda see that it wasn’t really their vibe anywhere. The pacing of the song with the images did work out really well, but after time passed, I found a couple things that didn’t quite sit well with me. Firstly, the song is played during a scene that’s in broad daylight… the music video was all dark and mysterious, at parts grainy in quality… you know, in that spooky way. Then they started to replay the song through again and I thought it was better that it ended or it was never getting out of my head.

I’ve always loved the rock edge to the song, but it was really spooky now that I was hearing it in this context. You are literally had by the first line… 6 months later or not… its spooky.

“time, time, time… see what’s become of me”

Then the very last verse they play really hit home and sets up the tone. Man, am I getting goosebumps now…

“Seasons change with scenery
Weaving time in a tapestry
Won’t you stop and remember me?”

It alls gets very messed up from there. The record company thing fell through, Julian lost all the money his father lent him… so he turned to James Spader (surprise, surprise… given that he meddled with Andy and Blaine’s relationship in “Pretty in Pink”) to supply his drug addiction and to loan him money. It had gotten so bad that Julian was having bad days and worse days and James Spader was having him pass himself off as a male whore… as in, guy on guy ish… I kinda figured that out at one point where these two big guys are coming out of a hotel room and he makes a run for it.

We know that he’s in a really bad place, but it seems like things are on a rollercoaster.
Blair is better at hiding it, but Clay finds out that she snorts cocaine as well. The two of them slowly find each other again, add in a sex scene or two.
This thing got an R-rating, including “brief nudity”… but oddly enough, it was, well, guy nudity rather than the usual topless girl nudity thing. In a later scene, you see another guy’s butt and a side view of RDJ where his front is covered, but its kind obvious he’s not wearing any sort of pants… my eyes were shying away so there was maybe a tiny bit more there than I’m going to admit to.
Damn… I’m such a prude about all this… RDJ, no less.

There are a couple of party scenes with all of these people in LA, mostly people they went to high school with. But its pretty clear to Clay that everyone is doing drugs one way or another.

It’s getting harder to remember some things, but I think its because I’ve successfully blocked a lot of the unpleasant things out except the really powerful stuff.

Heroin scares the %$*& out of me, it really does. I can’t believe all of these kids in these school are getting a hold of it now.

A lot of people smoke, but Julian is smoking, drinking, probably doing some marijuana, but heroin is his drug of choice. It’s the reason he keeps coming back to James Spader and he owes him $50K. His father kicked him out of the house because of the money issue and because he was a hot mess… more emphasis on the mess. His personality is on a rollercoaster because he’s wasted one minute, sarcastic another and maybe sober for about 10 minutes during the whole movie and that’s after graduation.

It’s pretty surprising to me that no car accidents happened this entire movie. Clay drives a car that is very iconic. Red with white detailing on the side. Looks like Lightning McQueen in the Pixar film “Cars”. The first time, Julian is completely high and at one point, he’s dangling off the back of the car falling out of the seat (its not meant to seat 3 people anyway). Then in the scene where Clay really sees that Blair has given in to cocaine where she freaks out when they’re about to hit a coyote… which they don’t. Another time where they were taking Julian out of the hands of James Spader, I thought for sure they were going to be followed.

I might as well get it over with. But there’s probably one scene I won’t be able to get out of my head for a long time… because for multiple reasons, it scared the hell out of me.

With a bottle in his hand, collapsed on the floor, Julian had done one too many and he was in probably the worst shape you will see him the entire movie with one later exception. It’d seen the quote several times on line by one critic that more or less said that RDJ’s portrayal of this character was so spot-on that it was scary.
The time frame that elapses, the camera on the ceiling looking down, with Blair rubbing his back when he spends literally hours vomiting… ugh, I can barely even think the word without feeling queasy myself… that was my problem when I got extremely nervous as a kid and I’d been free of nausea for at least 6 years (whenever it was I got my wisdom teeth out and the codine in the pain-killers were killing me). But if you never saw what an overdose looked like, this would probably be scarily close to it. Later in the night, they manage to get him over to a toliet. But its clear that Blair had been through this several times before. With Clay away at college, Julian kept giving into drugs and she’d be doing all-nighters to take care of him. I do not envy her that one bit. The vomiting seems occupied with some sort of sweating and shaking… feverish stuff… which I suppose explains that bit of nudity I mentioned earlier.

To the people that knew him, Julian probably sounded like a broken record. But he told his father he was going to change. Finally, he agreed to let him back in the house if he could stay clean for a week. Clay tries to levee his debt to James Spader, who really isn’t having any of it. Julian tells him that he wants nothing more to do with him after he pays back the $50K… but with his heavy, “Bill” putting a lighter in front of him… it appears that he isn’t going to be able to stay sober.

Clay finds Blair back at her place where they sobered Julian the night before and there’s something written on the wall. You can’t see it in its entirity but as it moves closer, you can see that it says “Julian gives good head or he’s dead”… ah geez, thanks to Prince I know what that means… his music helped complete my sex ed…

Speak of that devil, there were a couple things during the movie that had me thinking about him. There’s music you hear throughout the movie, the instrumental stuff, with Linn-drum. And one of Julian’s last lines to Blair includes “We had fun, didn’t we?”
again, I say, oh geez…

Clay and Blair look for him at one party, but someone tells them that he might be with James Spader at the suite that he rented. During this point, Blair conquers her cocaine addiction. She sees some of her girlfriends getting nosebleeds and she dumps her contents down a sink… with the wastoids going “what a waste…”

So Clay saves Julian from the male gigalo trade and the three of them drive out into the night. Clay told Blair beforehand that he has to get Julian out of LA to save him from himself.
They stop at a gas station and he falls to his knees on the way out of the bathroom so Clay and Blair have to help him to the car… all this time, I’m thinking that James Spader is going catch up to them.

More irony ensues. Julian slumps over onto Clay when the three of them stop over to sleep. It got me thinking of Weekend at Bernie’s… although the overall outcome was inevitable, the way it came about made that similarity all the more scarier.

The truth about heroin and cocaine is that you could die after using it once… my guess, Julian got some from James Spader and just had one shot too many that his heart stopped.

Up to this point, I managed to keep it together, but now I’m starting to fall apart a little bit. And then comes a shot that I thought was pretty useless. They’re in the middle of the desert when they find Julian had died and Blair is sobbing over him. Then we have a shot of a desert and it slowly pans forwards until we see the car… I mean, what is the point of that? Restating the situation, giving more background to it?

Clay and Blair spend the last scene at the cemetary and clearly are back together and going to live together in New York (or the east coast… wherever). He told a story about when Julian’s mom died and how she used to call him every day when she was coming home from work. After her death, he stayed by the phone and wouldn’t move, expecting her call. Then his dad gave him a telegram supposedly from her, saying that she was in Heaven and he was fine afterwards.

The song with the ending credits was drilled into my head between sobs… Roy Orbison performed it (later to gain fame as the guy who sang “Pretty Woman”… ah, the video for that song is also on that VHS… everything’s connected, spooky). I’ve slowly worked it out of my head so all I feel is how I felt hearing it rather than hearing it in my head.

So according to wikipedia… I had it wrong this whole time… Julian was a cocaine addict, not heroin… but they’re all pretty similar… as in they scare the hell out of me.

I found going into the movie that it was based off a book. The film was a very loose adaptation and according to the writer, he thought everyone but James Spader and RDJ were miscast. Clay was also a user in the book, whereas as Andrew McCarthy was clean-cut.

It was also written that on the test press, the test audience hated RDJ’s character. Therefore we had some lighter scenes added with him and Blair… the high school graduation scene in particular.

I had read certain things about RDJ after I first started getting into his movies. Particularly, I was interested in the addiction, jail time and rehab stints that left his acting career fracturated through most of the 90’s… now this is really getting hard to type about.

Something this powerful, any normal person would think that it would play a dramatic turn in the lives of those involved. I already thought and knew it was ironic that RDJ played such a character and he ended up getting in so much trouble with drugs. It’s painful right now to type that he had already been in trouble filming this and taking part actually made matters worse. For anyone but this guy, I figured it was common sense to get clean.

I can’t say for sure whether or not he ever used enough that he ended up in the ER or had as horrible a night as Julian had in the movie. All I can find is that he was arrested and incaracerated with possession of cocaine, heroin and marijuana… although he had tested positive for cocaine several times.
A CNN transcript from one of his court appearances says that he checked into rehab shortly after completing “Less than Zero.”

It’s the strangest thing and something I really didn’t expect.
Before I go any further, I need to pull myself away from this stupor I’d been in for the past 10 minutes… I wanted to know the truth, as much of it as I can, and it hurts. But its best in this state of mind and context that I do get all of this out of the way… I know all this so I can’t really be surprised anymore…

The man had been sober since either 2001 or 2003… I have two articles saying two different things. It was pinpointed that he had bi-polar disorder, which was the reason he had trouble staying sober.

Now here’s that strangest thing… he became known as one of Hollywood’s biggest bad boys with all this drug abuse-ish… but he never lost the respect of his colleagues no matter how many times he went up and down that road to and from rehab. The CNN transcript said he wasn’t the typical user that ended up with several arrests in a given month… he wasn’t the typical foul-mouthed repeat offender… it was clear, especially in the later 90’s that he wanted to clean up. He pleaded no contest to the charges of misdemaneor and possession, he even offered to wear an ankle monitor as a way of staving off temptation.

The first time I heard his name was around the time of Tropic Thunder and I was thinking that I had heard his name in 80’s movies, though I didn’t know which ones… I found out it was the same guy. I had also heard he had trouble with drugs and it was part of the reason Iron-Man was noted as his comeback to form.

So after seeing the movie, I will have to say a couple things.
1) for obvious reasons, this will be the first and only time I’m going to see it… right now it feels like a wound closing up and I want to remember the sting, not so much the reasons for it
2) I’m always going to be a little jumpy about whether or not he will relapse or worse, he will be six feet under prematurely
3) I don’t regret seeing the movie and it was well-done. In all seriousness, they should show bits and pieces of it in health class. That would keep kids away from drugs. Back to the court of heroin, we watched one scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta had to restart Uma Thurman’s heart with a needle filled with adrenaline… therefore, I doubt I’ll be able to watch the movie, needles give me the creeps
4) given my extended stint with Prince’s music, I’m clearly the type of person who likes to discover older things… things that had come and gone so the realities aren’t nearly as painful… I have never been happier for Robert Downey Jr’s sobreity. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at all last night if his story ended the same way Heath Ledger’s did.
5) I am a complete mess right now and a hot shower will do me good, as will watching the Inside the Actor’s Studio segment afterwards
6) I most likely won’t get the opportunity over the next week, but all the same, I don’t know whether or not I’ll be able to keep it together watching my favorite actor in Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes… but I certainly hope I’ll be able to… if anything, Weird Science and The Pick-up Artist especially, will have be off that list of movies I want to see for a while
7) eh… all the same, RDJ is much better looking these days… and I’m not just talking about the sobreity. I haven’t seen him messed up in real life the way he was in the movie… but he is a very distinguished man, as in, good looking in ways I usually don’t think so with other actors.
and 8) it remains to be seen if I would have been this messed up watching the movie without already knowing/loving RDJ as an actor and without a coincidental case of PMS

Oh, before I forget… there was another interesting fact that I saw very early in my research… after filming Chaplin, RDJ did something very symbolic as a way to “bury” his brat pack image… he literally buried the clothes he wore in “Less than Zero”… I remember particularly a white button-down shirt he always wore that had this large red spot on it that looks a little like a flower… when I first saw it, I thought it was a sick joke on his part because I thought it looked like a bullet wound… but yeah, he buried the clothes that Julian died in in the movie…

between you and me, RDJ, I love you in these more distinguished roles more anyway… I’ve noted George Clooney as probably one of the few great actors still around in the industry… as in great like James Stewart and Clark Gable…
I won’t go as far to say with my huge bias that I believe RDJ is the best actor in Hollywood. Bits and pieces of his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes leaves me cold… but there is something regal about him. He most likely is the hardest working actor in the industry because he literally throws himself into the roles… I had already mentioned his tendancies of taking his work home with him, as he mentioned on his latest Regis & Kelly appearance. That’s what I love about his work.

As not great a movie as it was, he made Due Date watchable… lmao

Until we meet again, God Bless

 

P.S.S.
I’m gonna get a chance tomorrow to see what an Academy Award nominated performance looks like. “Chaplin” is going to be on an HD movie channel tomorrow at 12:45… can’t wait

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