Story: Jerry Stahl (Ben Stiller) had dreams of writing masterpieces for Hollywood and once he traveled to Los Angeles, he was able to find success, even if not exactly how he pictured. Stahl would find that success in television, as the lead writer for show called Mr. Chompers, a sitcom about an alien puppet that lives with a suburban family. Stahl brings in a big salary, is praised by his peers, and even finds romance, with the beautiful Sandra (Elizabeth Hurley). That success enables him to indulge in some new habits, as Stahl develops a severe heroin addiction, spending more per week than even his television writing gig pays, so he is always on the brink. Even though his writing has made Mr. Chompers a big hit, his out of control behavior has his job at risk quite often, while his personal relationships don’t fare much better, but can he get it together before its too late?
Entertainment Value: Permanent Midnight has a wild premise, one that lets us witness Ben Stiller as a heroin abusing, heavy sweating writer from the classic 80s sitcom, ALF. In the movie the show has a different name of course, this is the true story of Jerry Stahl, who wrote for ALF and eventually wrote about his drug fueled journey in Hollywood. As you can imagine, this can be dark at times, but I think it could have been much darker, so while it shows some terrible decisions, it never reaches those kind of Trainspotting levels. The story unfolds via flashbacks as we sit with Stahl and a new lover, so it can be a little disjointed, but by no means hard to follow. I loved the scenes where he tries to balance his drug abuse with his work on the ALF show, as it seems so surreal and hard to believe, but then you remember how off the wall ALF was and it kind of makes sense. The pace is good and never feels slow, while some sections speed and slow along with Stahl’s drug use, so it holds interest throughout. I think Permanent Midnight is a well made, interesting movie that not only tells a dark, wild real life narrative, but also lets us see Stiller in one of his best roles. I’d recommend this to fans of Stiller, 90s cinema, or ALF, so that’s a solid recommendation.
As I watched Ben Stiller in this one, I couldn’t help but wonder what his career might have looked like if he stayed in these kind of dramatic roles. Of course, his massive success in comedies made him one of Hollywood’s top draws, but Stiller shows here he has tremendous dramatic skills, as well as a knack for darker comedic moments. There is an absurd edge on some parts of his performance, but he balances it well and ensures that while Stahl’s antics lead to some ridiculous moments, it all seems believable and at least somewhat grounded. I remember being impressed when Permanent Midnight first released, but even more so now, after seeing Stiller step away from serious movies for the most part in favor of light comedies. Peter Greene has a smaller role, but his scenes with Stiller are some of the most memorable ones here, thanks to Greene’s odd energy. The cast also includes Elizabeth Hurley, Fred Willard, Maria Bello, and Cheryl Ladd.
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