Seven days ago, we started embracing the melodrama with my review of No Down Payment, a look at lies and betrayal in suburbia. Today, we conclude things with 1988’s The Boost, a look at lies, betrayal, and cocaine in California, with the emphasis on cocaine.
From the first minute we meet Lenny Brown (James Woods, at his nerviest best), we assume that he has to be high on something. He’s a real estate broker and he’s one of those guys who always looks a little bit sleazy no matter how hard he tries otherwise. His smile is just a little too quick. He laughs a little bit too eagerly at his own jokes. He talks constantly, an endless patter of self-serving compliments, nervous jokes, and self-affirming platitudes. He’s a bundle of nerves but he’s also a brilliant salesman. We may assume that he’s on coke when we first see him but actually, he doesn’t touch the stuff. He barely drinks.
Of course, that changes when he’s hired by Max Sherman (Steven Hill). Max is a philosophical businessman, the type who makes sure that everyone who works for him gets a nice house, a nice car, and several lectures about what’s important in life. When Max first shows up, it’s tempting to dismiss him as just a self-important businessman but he actually turns out to be a nice guy. He gives Lenny a ton of good advice. Unfortunately, Lenny ignores almost all of it.
At first, life is good for Lenny and his wife, Linda (Sean Young). Lenny is making tons of money, selling houses that can used as a tax shelter or something like that. (I never understand how any of that stuff works.) Lenny is making all sorts of new friends, like Joel Miller (John Kapelos) and his wife, Rochelle (Kelle Kerr). Joel owns four car washes and he’s made a fortune off of them. All of that money means that he can throw extravagant parties and take nice trips. It also means that Joel has a never-ending supply of cocaine. At first, Lenny turns down Joel’s offer of cocaine but eventually he gives in. At the time, he says that he just needs a little boost. Soon both Lenny and Linda are addicts.
Of course, nothing goes on forever. The tax laws change and Max suddenly finds himself out-of-business. Lenny and Linda lose their house. They lose their expensive car. They even lose their private plane. They end up staying in a tiny apartment. Lenny says that he can still sell anything and that they’ll be back on top in just a few months. Of course, even while Lenny is saying this, his main concern is getting more cocaine…
Though dated, The Boost is an effective anti-drug film. The scene where Lenny overdoses is absolutely harrowing. Wisely, the film doesn’t deny the fact that cocaine is a lot of fun before you end up losing all of your money and having to move into a cheap apartment with shag carpeting. It’s a bit like a coke-fueled Days of Wine and Roses, right down to an ending that finds one partner clean and one partner still in the throes of addiction. James Woods gives a great performance as the self-destructive Lenny, as does Sean Young as his wife and partner in addiction. And then there’s Steven Hill, providing the voice of gruff wisdom as Max Sherman. When Max says that he feels that he’s been betrayed, Hill makes you feel as if the entire world has ended.
Speaking of endings, that’s it for this latest installment of Embracing the Melodrama. I hope you enjoyed this mini-series of reviews and that you will always be willing to embrace the … well, you know.