Hollywood addicts are different but no less pathetic than addicts
elsewhere. PERMANENT MIDNIGHT, based on screenwriter Jerry Stahl's
autobiography, paints an alarming portrait of drugs in Tinseltown.
After shooting up heroin and consuming his green-grass-shake breakfast,
Jerry has to get in his 5-mile jog. His carefully controlled diet
avoids any non-organic food products.
Ben Stiller, still playing in theaters as the comedic lead in THERE'S
SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, demonstrates considerable versatility as Jerry
Stahl, addict extraordinaire and television writing wunderkind. With an
emaciated look that is the spitting image of Stahl in his drug addled
days, Stiller dresses almost exclusively in black leather. Hyperactive
and erratic, he's a nuclear reactor in constant danger of meltdown.
The tragic story opens with Jerry in the toilet, literally. His wife's
about to give birth, but he needs his hourly fix so he has hidden in a
toilet stall near the operating room where he can shoot up his heroin --
one of many drugs from speed to crack cocaine to which he is addicted.
The only reason he has a wife is due to his drug habit. Offered $3,000
to marry Sandra, who needed a green card, he reluctantly agreed. Since
the gorgeous Elizabeth Hurley plays Sandra, many male viewers may wish
they were so tempted. Hurley plays the role of the "supportive" wife,
who blissfully ignores her husband's drug problem until it looks
The story is told in flashback after Jerry has completed a few months of
rehab and is now working at a menial job in a fast food outlet. Jerry,
who sleeps with anyone in a skirt, hits it off with a customer fresh out
of rehab herself. Between having sex, he tells her his tragic story.
Not content with mere alluding to his habit, the film is filled with
explicit scenes of him shooting, smoking and popping drugs. While
typing his scripts with the ferocity of a madman, he pops pills like
candy. Later in the movie, it will take 6 bags of smack before he can
even get started at his daily writing grind.
Jerry is a prolific writer for various television series. Most, but not
all, producers manage to be conveniently oblivious to his difficulties.
"Hollywood is so self-obsessed that nobody notices what anyone else is
doing," Jerry points out.
Drugs own Jerry so that his judgement becomes more and more clouded. He
shows up as high as a kite to job interviews and to script idea
sessions. The other actors tend to be ex-druggies themselves, so they
are sympathetic to his plight. Still, when Jerry goes totally off the
deep end at one session, his career seems near an end. "Realism is
dead," he shouts as the drugs pump through his bloodstream.
"Expressionism is where it's at." He goes on to describe his bizarre
vision of where he wants to take the television series. He is fired
that same day.
Filled with the minutia that characterizes a real drug addict, Jerry
guzzles water, sweats profusely and craves sugar when he's not shooting
up. A conversation with him at a party is nigh impossible. He
interrupts guests every few minutes to sneak off to the bathroom for his
PERMANENT MIDNIGHT, while having a few dark comedic undertones, is as
effectively realistic a statement against drug usage as you're likely to
find. It also amply demonstrates the downside of fame in the fast lane.
PERMANENT MIDNIGHT runs a fast 1:35. It is rated R for pervasive hard
drug usage, profanity, sex and nudity and would be acceptable for
teenagers only if they are older and mature.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes