A man goes to meet a girl for a date, but after weird things begin to happen, all he really wants to do is get home.
I’d never heard of this film before I watched it. This is strange, because it’s a Scorsese film, and stranger still, because the film received overwhelmingly positive reviews. It’s common for a great film director’s less popular films to be swallowed by their impressive filmography. Hitchcock is a great example of someone like this: his more polished and popular features like “Psycho” or “Vertigo” overshadow movies like “The 39 Steps” or “Shadow of a Doubt”. Scorsese, however, is a more contemporary director, and I’d never even heard “After Hours” mentioned in passing, even by my biggest cinephile friends. Then, after watching this, I wondered how something like this could be so utterly forgotten, and I figured I’d write about it. One of the best things about writing for this blog is being able to bring to light films that might’ve gotten lost in time. If this article brings one person to “After Hours”, and they get a few chuckles out of it, then this will have been worth it.
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunn, “An American Werewolf in London”) is an ordinary man working a dead end job that he’s bored with. One night Paul meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette, “Pulp Fiction”) at a coffee shop; the two hit it off and Marcy eventually gives Paul her phone number. Paul calls Marcy almost immediately, and Marcy invites him down to her apartment in SoHo. Once at her apartment, Paul meets Marcy’s roommate Kiki, a sculpture working on a paper-mache project resembling Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Marcy, it seems, has left the building, so Paul has to wait for her to return, but eventually she does. As the film goes on, Paul grows tired and tries to head home. The film takes a comedic, meandering journey through the streets, apartments and all night diners of Manhattan becoming increasingly surreal as the night goes on.
I’m honestly surprised that this film didn’t catapult Griffin Dunne into some kind of stardom, because his acting in this movie was absolutely stellar. His comedic timing, ability to show his hysterical uncomfortable thoughts on his face, and the subtlety with which he delivers his lines elevates this movie to the next level. This is a bizarre film, and without the proper lead actor I think it easily could’ve fallen apart. The characters in this film are expertly written, and though we never really know much about any of them, we sympathize for them when bad things happen to them, despite being able to laugh at the situations they’re in. Duune strikes a perfect balance of being a perfectly naïve protagonist while still seeming rather smart; things take him and the audience by surprise and his reactions are almost always laugh inducing. Though his character is rather sleazy, he is, still, rather relatable because the situations are so utterly unexpected that it’s hard not to be just as surprised as he is. Duune’s character, Paul, is essentially going down to SoHo because he believes that Marcy will have sex with him. But as the movie goes on, and it becomes apparent that that’s not going to happen, he moves on, and another girl throws herself at him. The situation feels incredibly alien, and Duune’s ability to ground the bizarre situation in reality is quite impressive. At first, it seems as if Paul might just go for this girl, but things just keep getting in his way. Paul continues to be baffled by what happens, with increasingly humorous results.
The storyline feels like a series of vignettes that are loosely connected. The events fray together here and there, overlapping with multiple consequences. It’s a film that doesn’t take itself seriously, but at the same time, it has a lot to say about creation and the banality of boring office work. It’s a subtle message, and one that doesn’t really need to be focused on in order to enjoy the movie. This film is an experience, one that devolves into a frenzied fever dream towards the end. I don’t want to spoil too much of this film, because talking about the scenes before you see them would ruin the surprises. There something strange going on in almost every single one of these scenes- it’s not a long movie, but it’s pacing makes it feel even shorter. It’s a film much like “Tampopo” (1985)- irreverent, strange, hard to explain, but incredibly humorous and absolutely worth watching. It’s Scorsese at his weirdest- almost as if he and Terry Gilliam had traded off directing scenes.
I really enjoyed “After Hours”, and I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it before. It’s a Scorsese film that feels nothing like Scorsese, but still has the cinematic craft that were used to seeing in his films. This is probably the funniest of his films I’ve seen other than “Wolf of Wall Street”. It’s a pity this film hasn’t received the praise it deserves. Check it out if you get a chance.
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