What Lisa Watched Last Night: Less Than Zero (dir. by Marek Kanievska)


Last night, I ended up watching the 1987 anti-drug propaganda piece, Less than Zero.

Why Was I Watching It?

Last night, I was hanging out with Jeff, our friend Evelyn, and Evelyn’s friend Steven and we were flipping stations, trying to find something that we could use for background noise.  When we came across an announcement on FMC that Less Than Zero was about to start, I made the mistake of admitting that despite having read Bret Easton Ellis’s novel and heard a good deal about this film, I had never actually sat down and watched Less Than Zero

Well, after everyone got finished making fun of me (boo hoo), it was agreed that we simply had to watch Less Than Zero

“But,” I started, “isn’t Gone With Wind starting over on TCM…”

“Fuck Gone With The Wind,” someone (I think it was Evelyn because she’s a meanie) said, “you’ve never seen Less than Zero before.”

What’s It About?

It’s about rich kids in Los Angeles doing drugs.  Clay (played by Andrew McCarthy, who my cousin Jessica met once and who she says was a really nice guy) is a college student who comes home to L.A. and discovers that his ex-girlfriend Blair (Jami Gertz) and best friend Julian (Robert Downey, Jr.) are addicted to cocaine and  that Julian owes a lot of money to a drug dealer named Rip (James Spader). 

(Personally, I would never buy drugs from someone named Rip — with the possible exception of Rip Torn.)

Anyway, Clay takes it upon himself to try to save the soul of everyone in California.

What Worked?

Downey and Spader are both great in this film.  From what I’ve read, the general assumption seems to be that Downey was just playing himself here but whether or not he was, he still gives an excellent performance.  Spader, meanwhile, turns Rip into a great villain by making evil sexy.

The film, full of garish neon and defiantly tacky pastels, looks great in its decadent, shallow way.  The same thing can be said of the music.

What Didn’t Work?

Everything else.  Less Than Zero really doesn’t work as an anti-drug film because the character of Clay seems so boring when compared to Julian and Rip. 

If I had to choose between the three of them, I’d probably hang out with Rip because 1) he always seems to be having a good time, 2) he’s apparently not a drug addict himself, and 3) he’s got the most money of all of them.    That therefore makes him preferable to both Julian, who is having a good time but is also a drug addict, and Clay who isn’t a drug addict yet appears to be miserable throughout the entire film.

Oh my God! Just like me!” Moments

One night, years ago, I found myself making out with an ex-boyfriend in a convertible while one jagged bolt of lightning split the night sky above us and hundreds of scary guys on motorcycles drove past us.  As is often the case, the memory was better than the ex.

Lessons Learned:

Drug dealers make the best dates.