Making love was easy. Being in love was difficult.
Dannie (Rob Lowe, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) and Bernie (James Belushi, According to Jim) are co-workers and best friends. They spend their days talking about girls and sex and spend their nights hunting for girls to have sex with. Debbie (Demi Moore, G.I. Jane) and Joan (Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds) are also co-workers and best friends. They spend their days talking about men and sex and spend their nights waiting to be picked up by an appealing new guy. One evening, Dannie and Debbie hook up and share a passionate night of lovemaking. Both go into the situation expecting a fun one-night stand, but it quickly becomes something more. The advancing relationship puts a strain on Dannie and Debbie’s respective friendships with Bernie and Joan, who feel that their best friends don’t need to be in a serious relationship. Before long, it becomes clear that something is going to have to give. Can this budding romance survive the gauntlet of obstacles that will come up over the course of the next year?
The source material for this film is the much-acclaimed David Mamet play Sexual Perversity in Chicago. The fact that the title of the film adaptation was changed to About Last Night… is a pretty good indicator of what occurred in the process of translating the play to the realm of cinema. About Last Night… is a watered-down, smoothed-over, bastardized version of Mamet’s gloriously profane and unnerving work. The story has lost much of its punch, as screenwriters Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue have transformed Mamet’s series of memorable vignettes into a much more ordinary romantic comedy/drama with a much more conventional structure.
About Last Night… is perhaps most noted for being the directorial debut of Ed Zwick, who would later go on to helm such fine films as Glory and The Last Samurai. These days Zwick is more or less known as, “The Historical Epic Guy,” but he has always displayed an affinity for more low-key dramas about the relationships between young adults (note his involvement in series like Quarterlife, thirtysomething, and Once and Again). He demonstrates a sure-handedness in this film that is impressive, but the weaknesses of the screenplay are simply too significant for Zwick or his then-hot cast to overcome.
A pre-sex tape Rob Lowe and a young, intriguing Demi Moore do a reasonably good job with the lead roles, though perhaps it is indicative of their talent that they do better with the scenes which feature the least Mamet dialogue. Give ’em soapy sitcom material and they’re fine, but ask them to carry those challenging cadences and oh-so-important beats and they fumble a bit. I was actually more impressed by James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins (in her debut performance) as the best friends. The best scene in the film is the opening sequence, one of the few moments of pure Mamet banter, as Belushi recounts a wild night of debauchery that took an unexpected turn. It’s a brief indication of just what this film could have been had the filmmakers not been so insistent on making things as ordinary as possible.
On a somewhat less important level, About Last Night… has dated rather terribly. Boy oh boy, this thing is certainly a product of the ’80s. There’s enough bad hair, cheesy synthesizer music, massive shoulder pads, and awful color schemes to induce a permanent cringe on the part of the viewer. I couldn’t help but laugh during the scene in which Lowe seduces Moore by letting her wear his super-cutting-edge ’80s headphones pumping out a cornball love ballad. True to ’80s form, there’s also an endless string of softly-lit montages in which Lowe and Moore engage in enthusiastic softcore lovemaking. These feel like little more than scintillating padding, as do the less sexy montages in which the couple engages in more normal everyday activities.
The transfer is merely adequate, though this is partially due to the fact that the film was dimly-lit to begin with. Still, much of the imagery seems murky and very soft, often appearing to be no better than what a standard-def transfer might provide in terms of detail. Black crush is a problem at times, and there simply isn’t enough definition during the darker scenes. There’s also a steady stream of minor scratches and flecks throughout. Audio is stellar enough during the dialogue scenes, doing an impressive job of remaining coherent during the chaotic moments (there are surprisingly quite a few of these). Unfortunately, the music sounds pinched and slightly damaged throughout. It’s too bad nobody felt like giving the soundtrack a nice remastering.
On the plus side, we do get a brand-new 41-minute conversation between Ed Zwick and Rob Lowe, who offer their memories on the experience of making the film. It’s a very engaging watch, and I was quite surprised to find a substantial new supplement like this on the hi-def release of an old catalog title. You also get a cheesy vintage making-of featurette that is considerably less interesting.
Despite a few interesting moments and truthful exchanges, it’s too difficult not to consider just how good About Last Night… could have been, if it had been more faithful to its source material. Mamet has disavowed the film, and I’m not too impressed either.