A few years ago, before Ben Stiller was the toast of the town with Meet the Fockers and A Night at the Museum he was a very different kind of leading man. Seriously, go back and look. He made some really weird movies. I didn’t even realize how oddball some of his choices were until I IMDB’d him. Zero Effect? Mystery Men? Your Friends and Neighbors? I miss the Ben Stiller who showed versatility and taste in dark comedy. I miss the guy who made Duplex. But since I’m the only one who liked that movie, I guess I’m alone.
That said, Permanent Midnight is one hell of a movie.
A true story, and a darkly comic take on the classic, of boy meets girl, boy gets crippling heroin addiction, boy loses girl, formula, Permanent Midnight is a movie that is pretty shocking if you’ve only seen Stiller’s 9-digit movies. This isn’t a big film filled with broad humor and poop gags. Instead, it’s a dramady that reaches almost tragic levels.
Jerry Stahl, (Ben Stiller), is an enviable guy. He has had everything handed too him; natural talent, a beautiful wife, (Elizabeth Hurley), and a well paying job on a highly rated sitcom. A dream life for many. But then there is his fatal flaw. See, Stahl makes about $5,000 a week and he spends about $6,000 on heroin.
And don’t think that heroin is somehow funny here. Sure, there are one or two amusing hallucinations featuring the sector of Alf, and the banter is witty, but most of this film is just watching one incredibly manipulative man spiral out of control. It’s eye opening, and pretty grungy, but strangely watchable. Stiller starts off as a jerk and ends up as pretty unsympathetic. Even if he’s clean at the end, I don’t see how anyone could possibly like him. And I think there’s something to be said for that.
This is an actor’s piece and I’ll be damned if Stiller doesn’t pull it off. Every step along the way Stahl tricks, bamboozles and screws over his friends and Stiller never tries to soften it. We’re there when he steals from family. We’re there to watch as he takes his infant on a drug run and shoots up with her crying in the seat. We see the benders and the withdrawal. It’s not Brando, but it’s miles better than you would think a movie starring “Gaylord Focker” would be.
I don’t know the history of this film on DVD, but the disc feels oddly retro. The case is very much in keeping with the first DVD’s I ever bought. It even has “cast and crew biographies” and the production notes on the main menu. Also, said menu is hilariously mismatched to the movie.
Still, it’s not a bad disc. The picture is clean and the audio was well mixed. The movie made about one million dollars, but someone have been taking care of this print, because it looks as good as a new release. Robert Yeoman’s cinematography looks beautiful.
The audio commentary by writer/director David Veloz is adequate. He spends a lot of time discussing how happy he is with the movie. He would have done well if the real Jerry Stahl were included. Sadly, he is not.
Trailers and deleted scenes round out the disc.
Permanent Midnight is a great reminder of Stiller’s potential, a potential he will hopefully fulfill with the promising Tropic Thunder.
While the movie is a bit too episodic for it’s own good, the narrative is engaging and the acting is top notch. It can be hard to stomach for a comedy, but if you enjoyed Trainspotting, this might be a good time.