After Hours

After Hours ★★★½

What a strange film for a director like Scorsese, usually so focused on gritty realism, with it’s Tim Burton-y characters, he was initially slated to direct, and screwball comedy elements it all feels a bit off under a director who doesn’t entirely seem to get it. The film isn’t without it’s pleasures however with a charming and sympathetic leading man in Griffin Dunne and entertaining performances from Linda Fiorentino and Teri Garr as two difficult young women along with an off-the-wall visual set-up that does achieve the high fantasy genre that the film seems to be going for. Overall the film doesn’t completely work as an absurdist comedy but it’s individual pieces are charming enough to create a pleasant little film.

An ordinary schlub, Griffin Dunne, who is bored with his everyday life is enchanted when the lovely Marcy, Rosanna Arquette, gives him her telephone number. When he travels downtown to meet her in the hopes of a hookup he encounters several kooky characters and seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his quest to return home. As he inadvertently offends Julie, Teri Garr, and discovers that the subway fare has increased overnight he struggles to make sense of the world around him as he has arrived in a seemingly inescapable hell-scape. Cheech and Chong play robbers who appear intermittently and their star presumably attracted several stoners to this admittedly trippy film.

The screenplay, written by Scorsese and Joseph Minion, would appear to be a competent comedic script, it is reminiscent of early David O. Russell films like Spanking the Monkey (1994) and Flirting with Disaster (1996) who was most likely inspired by this type of oddball satire, but something about the direction of it saps it of some of it’s richness. For example, we hear Dunne talk about his horrible night but we never actually get a sense of the torture he is going through, sure Fiorentino and Arquette appear to be unpleasant but the camera never gives us a sense of any real frustration or suffering from Dunne’s perspective. Dunne’s performance is convincing but it is only when he has thick “I’m tired” makeup plastered to his eyes that we understand how physically demanding this night has been for him.

The technical elements of the film are mostly interesting with some extra Scorsese flairs added to what could have otherwise been a pedestrian romp. The camera movements have a fluidity to them not seen in your average 80s comedy, see the utterly boring Revenge of the Nerds (1984), with crisp close up shots of our protagonist and effective panning which shows the many oddities of Marcy’s neighborhood. The set design also pops as we see very 80s apartments littered with neon colored knick knacks and odd sculptures that serve as an immediate shorthand for the weirdness of these characters and the environment they exist in. One criticism I would have of how the film is technically crafted, other than the previously mentioned lack of stress buildup, is the terrible score in which two songs are used over and over, initially I found myself liking their Bernard Herrmann-esque sound, but as they kept getting played the film moved into almost self-parody and the lack of variety hurt some otherwise fun scenes in the film.
The best part of the film is the performances and Dunne is a fantastic leading man, almost a precursor to Ben Stiller but with less morbid wit and more sweetness, he is one of the few parts of this film that seems to perfectly fit the genre he is working in. His interactions with Arquette are twee but believable and his annoyance at the various women who bombard him with their requests are both assured, fully integrated components of the character. Teri Garr is funny but tragic, she struck a similar note in Tootsie (1982), as she sexually harasses the harasses the main character, through a modern lens these interactions are more scary than hilarious but Garr’s performance remains well-suited to the film. The various other performers in the film, particularly Fiorentino, work as an eclectic bunch of fruitcakes and the comedic beats often work despite Scorsese’s direction and due to the abilities of these actors.

I would recommend this film because it is relatively short at 97 minutes and is light and funny enough to watch with family and friends. It is not thought provoking or shocking as most of Scorsese’s work is but it is a delightful mid-80s comedy with a more interesting construction than most films during that period and it deserves a larger audience considering the popularity of the genre it exists within. That is good enough for fifteenth on list. This is certainly an outlier within Scorsese’s career but it is not an unpleasant one and it is nice to see him experiment with lighter material.

CatherineShort liked this review