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I Wanna Go Home!

I’ve taken to watching films I’ve seen before, I know we all do that, but it’s interesting to see if they stand up many years after release. So last night I watched Martin Scorcese’s 1985 film “After Hours” with Griffin Dunn, Teri Garr, John Heard, Rosanna Arquette and Linda Fiorentino. In the script writing manuals, they all agree on one thing, give your protagonist a compelling goal, otherwise your audience will have little interest. In this wonderful movie, which incidentally stands up very well after 25 years, the central character Paul Hackett’s (Griffin Dunn) only goal is to get back home.

Early on a conversation takes place in a diner where Paul and his date Marcy (Arquette) discuss their favourite movie “The Wizard of Oz” and it’s plain to see how this movie was inspired by it. So obviously a compelling goal doesn’t have to be “stopping the maniac who is about to destroy all of mankind”, getting home to your bed works just fine. Films from “The Wizard of Oz” to “It’s a Wonderful Life” to “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” to “Apollo 13” to “Gladiator” all share this simple yet powerful premise – “I want to get home” . What’s also interesting about this film is that there is no plot, not in the traditional sense. Sure a lot of things happen to the central character all working against his mission to get home, but they are merely isolated incidents, not a continuous, progressive narrative (more than once the incongruous events loop back on themselves) where if you pulled out one scene, the whole thing would collapse, not so and in that sense, very much akin to life.

The events in “After Hours” are contrived and unbelievable at times, but then that’s OK because if Paul’s experiences in the Upper East side of Manhattan in the wee hours of the morning, were any less than nightmarish, we wouldn’t share his hunger for home. Paul works in a large office, not only carrying out mundane repetitive computer input work, but also training a new employee Lloyd (Bronson Pinchot). Lloyd shares his dream of publishing his own magazine with Paul, who distractedly observes the office drones around him. We know what he’s thinking – “There’s got to be something better than this. But he knows and we know that Lloyd will never become a publisher, because he will never do anything about it. That night, bored in his apartment, Paul sits reading a book in a local diner and is engaged in conversation by Marcy (Arquette). On leaving, she gives Paul the phone number of her friend, who’s loft she is now leaving for. Back in his apartment, Paul has had enough of taking no action, calls the number and unexpectedly finds himself once again talking to Marcy. She invites him to the loft and Paul sets out on his surreal odyssey. Hailing a Yellow Cab, he climbs in and finds himself battling the forces of physics as the cab speeds and swerves it’s way across town. His only 20 dollar bill flies out the window and he’s forced to welch on the fare to the consternation of the cabbie.

Paul finds the loft where Kiki (Linda Fiorentino) is working on a paper-maché sculpture in her black bra and leather mini-skirt. Marcy arrives back from the drug store having purchased (Paul surreptitiously learns) a tube of ointment for 2nd degree burns. They go out for coffee where the proprietor tells them it’s on the house adding “Different rules apply when it’s after hours”, setting the tone for what’s to follow. I won’t go into detail about the rest of the plot, besides you’ll find all that and more on IMDb, enough to say that Paul has a very eventful night ahead of him.

After Hours is a wonderful little 97 minute diversion that Scorcese took on to direct after his initial attempts to bring “The Last Temptation of Christ” to the screen floundered and he sought something small and quick to do. Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorcese’s editor from film school, tells us on the extras that working on this film was just like the days of being a film student, shooting fast and tight with a small crew. Perhaps that’s why this film is still so fresh 25 years on.

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