I actually never wanted to watch this movie before. I had a friend who really loved it, but I didn't like his taste in movies. He had a tendency to like movies about dorky guys (like himself) meeting older women or women who would go home with the main character quickly, and getting into wacky adventures together or something. For some reason, I always was under the impression that this was what he thought real life was like, and because it bothered me so much, I avoided this movie because he liked it so much.. I'm so happy I finally saw it, because it was great, and really deepened my already obsessive love for Scorsese.
The film is about Paul, a guy who works as a word processor (oh, the '80s). He meets a girl, Marcie, at a coffee shop one night and she gives him the phone number of a friend that she's staying with, an artist named Kiki. When he calls later, she invites him over. He goes to see her, but realizes he doesn't like her so much. Soon, things go horribly wrong. Marcie has killed herself, everyone thinks Paul is a local robber, and an angry mob in Mr. Softee truck is chasing him down. There is so much more going on here, but it's impossible to really describe a plot like this one.
Paul just faces one strange challenge and disaster after another. They aren't really related in any logical sense, but in the world of the movie, they are. They're all linked together through vague symbols that are only really important in the movie. That makes so little sense. Here's an example. When Paul first gets Kiki's number, it's because he wants to buy a bagel and cream cheese paper weight. She doesn't seem to be making these, however, which is upsetting, since it's the real reason he went over there in the first place. Later, when he's trying to find money to get home, he goes up to the apartment of a cocktail waitress at a nearby bar. She tries to give him a bagel and cream cheese paper weight. See what I mean? These things shouldn't be related but they are, in the weird and twisted logic of the movie. Ebert calls it dream logic, which makes so much sense.
It's one of the main reasons that I loved the movie. It was so interesting to watch, because I had no idea what strange thing was going to happen next. It was a stupid wacky adventure that somehow I totally believed. I attribute all of this to Scorsese. Another director might have made this into some doofy comedy film or something, but somehow, this felt tense! It was funny in parts, but for most of it, I felt genuinely worried about Paul. Everyone he encountered was so legitimately crazy that there was no doubt in my mind that there was something actually going on. It wasn't just like, oh, hey, it's some cast of wacky characters. Many of them were normal at first, but once he would start talking to them, it was clear they were lunatics. I think this made it more convincing and tense, you know? It certainly helped me feel more afraid for him.
Scorsese did such a great job directing this. Not only did he make it actually tense, it's just amazing to look at. He's got great vision, and I love how it comes across in this movies. I think one of my favorite scenes was with the Mr. Softee truck, when we partially glimpse it as it chases Paul, an angry mob hanging onto the sides and following it with flashlights. Any other director would have filmed this shot clearly, with the truck and mob in full, unobstructed view. Probably the shot would have been long, so we would have plenty of time to laugh at it. Not here. Scorsese shoots the truck with parts of a building blocking it so we only see a little part of it. It's also only for a few moments. It's perfect. He knew it was funny and good, but he didn't want to kill it, and his restraint really paid off. It was funny and tense at the same time. I loved it!
I want to keep writing about all the parts that I love, but I need to get some sleep. Or at least try to. I'm busy at work and I don't want to fall behind. I loved this movie, though. I expected it to be some dopey movie about some guy who meets some woman and they get involved the same night, but I loved that it was so much more than that. I was amazed that Scorsese was able to create such a stylish, substance-lacking film (although clearly you could put tons and tons of meanings onto this film), and take goofy subject material and make it tense. It's just a great film, and I think everyone should check it out. It's weird, but it's amazing, and I can't wait to watch it again some time. I love Scorsese, and it's so fun to see how wide his range to talents really is. :)
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Ebert's Great Movie Essay on After Hours
Buy or rent it on Amazon