David Veloz directs his adaptation of Jerry Stahl’s autobiographical portrait of a Hollywood writer succumbing to the downward spiral of drug addiction. Despite some adequate performances, the film merely treads water with nowhere to go, and nothing to say.
Ben Stiller portrays Stahl, who moves to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s to get away from the drug scene in New York. However, his ploy doesn’t work… rooming with a fellow addict (Owen Wilson) doesn’t help…and soon Jerry is plunged even deeper into the world of drugs.
But not everything is a negative influence on Jerry. His wife, Sandra (Elizabeth Hurley), who married him for a green card, helps him get a job writing for the puppet sitcom, Mr. Chompers (in real life, ALF). A literary agent, Jana Farmer (Janeane Garofalo) is impressed by his work and wants to represent him.
But all that matters to Jerry is the drugs. He continues to sink deeper and deeper, blowing off work, friends, family, and anything else which might have once held some meaning for himself. The fact that this story is an autobiography (and that it’s told in flashback) should let you know that he doesn’t completely self-destruct, but the question remains: how far will he drop.
Permanent Midnight is all over the map, and not in a good way. Its narrative is jerky, the flashbacks seem forced, and there’s nary a consistent tone to be found in the entire film. Sometimes, a confusing atmosphere can actually enhance a film about drug addiction (see: Trainspotting), but here it is a serious distraction.
Ben Stiller does his best to lift Permanent Midnight out of the morass, but can’t quite do it on his own. His dramatic performance here is one of the best in his career, showing that he can do more than neurotic comedy. However, he is hamstrung by the script. We are treated to one dramatic scene about his family, but other than that there is never any insight into what makes his character tick. He’s merely a junkie writer, and that’s it.
The plight of the junkie has been visited several times before in films. Permanent Midnight delivers a few illustrations of the depths to which a drug addict will sink, but little else. You don’t leave the film more enlightened than when you entered, and not very much more entertained either.