Thursday, March 18, 2010

What does that J stand for?

Michael J Fox: Was there ever a more rubbish film star?

Mrs F-C, under duress, and I sat down to watch Bright Lights, Big City last night. It's the 1988 film of the Jay McInerney novel, with screenplay by the great man himself. If you don't know, it's tale of a man who works on a magazine (based on the New Yorker, judging by the Patrician staff and wood-pannelled offices), who clearly doesn't know just how lucky he is to have a research job there, but due to the death of his mother and falling in with a flash Eighties crowd (neon, nightclubs, Kiefer Sutherland, bubble perms, coke) his takes a downward spiral. He goes to nightclubs til dawn, drink endless cocktails, wakes up late, makes a hash of life in general. The only person who believes in him is simpering older co-worker Swoosie Kurtz.

All fine so far, but this isn't The Object Of My Affection or Less Than Zero, films that do disaffected Eighties US youth far, far better. The real problem is Fox. He's simply too clean cut, too Family Ties, too Back To The Future to make this even halfway believable. He's meant to be a an out of control cokehead who eventually gets fired from his job with makes things worse, but he's just not up to the job. I don't think I've ever seen him a drama before and I can't help but think there can't be very much of them out there. A bit of light, Back To The Future comedy is about his limit. He's ageless, with perfect hair, not a line on his face, not the sort of person he's meant to be portraying here.

It's probably not his fault entirely - he does do one quite convincing drunk scene. The rest of the cast aren't up to much either. That paragon of Eighties chic Phoebe Cates plays the fashion model ex-wife who wants nothing to do with him does her usual plank of wood routine and it's all horribly sub-Mannequin nastiness. I can't even remember what happened in the end.

I'm a huge fan of Brett Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney and their ilk, and they belong firmly in the Eighties and if films are to be made they should only star Rob Lowe, Robert Downey Jr, James Spader and Andrew McCarthy. Fox's stab at Brat Pack-ness did not work.

But perhaps he knew it, settling comfortably into sitcom land forever. I know he's not well these days, but he will be remembered if not for being miscast in Bright Lights, Big City then for being ace in the Back To The Future films and Family Ties.

Fox was in another flop I've not seen with Joan Jett. Not Light Of Day, but I like the song.


Suzy Norman said...

He suits farcical comedies better. The Secret of My Success was perfect for him. Nobody can spin on their heels and high-five in a fleck suit quite like him.

Clair said...

I think I am the only Eighties Person never to have seen a Brat Pack film. It entirely passed me by; although I did go to the pictures to see Back To The Future.

Cocktails said...

MJF is a complete spunk-rat.

There will always be a place for him in my heart and I won't hear you say anything bad about him (even if Bright Lights, Big City is crap).

Simon said...

Funnily enough I watched TeenWolf* at the weekend and loved every minute of it despite how it has aged. Never seen him do serious so can't pass judgement there.

*A real job for the trades description act if ever I saw one - some of those high school children were nearly 30.

Mondo said...

Steve Guttenburg? Adam Sandler? Madonna, surely, Madonna?

Tom Cruise is also hopeless and only has three performance settings: shouty passionate anger, panicked rage, manic laughter.

Five-Centres said...

Well I don't mind him in some things like Back To The Future (we queued round the block to see it) or the aforementioned Secret Of My Success. But just don't do drama, Mike.

TimT said...

Light Of Day isn't bad, actually, and MJF does a fairly convincing blue-collar act (he even smokes!). And the title song is a corker, one of my favourite Springsteen rockers.

Talking of his sitcoms, I've just remembered Spin City, which I always enjoyed. That never gets repeated, does it?

Ishouldbeworking said...

I used to quite like him in that ancient American sitcom, where he was the yuppie capitalist teenage son of two bewildered former hippie parents. But he was cursed and blessed with a face that never grew up, which I don't think helped his credibility as a mature actor.