There’s a Certain Shabby Nobility in Failing All By Myself
Word out today is that Josh Schwartz, the creator of “The O.C.” is set to direct a remake of Bright Lights, Big City, the 1988 film that not even Michael J. Fox could save. I’m OK with this. Why? Because back during those days when the idea of a Generation X was all the rage, I fell hard into the category. For a few years in my early 20s, my favorite three authors were Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis, and Jay McInierney, who were — in a way — writing variations of the same book about the same characters: Drug-addled twenty-somethings growing up in the Reagan era. I didn’t get into them until the mid-90s, but I still had a vision of myself becoming one of those drug-addled, soulless assholes who found solace in, well, drugs and serial killing (Patrick Bateman, Holla!)
McInierney’s Bright Lights, Big City was his version of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less than Zero, and both of them pretty much stunk up the box-office when they were turned into films. They tried to mix drugs and alcohol with this sort of 80s John Hughes’ movie vibe, and the results were fairly atrocious, although Robert Downey, Jr. did all he could to salvage Less than Zero (and Downey was, at the time, the perfect actor for the part). Bright Lights, Big City failed more specifically because nobody wanted to see Michael J. Fox (still known as Alex P. Keaton to most folks at the time) in a dark, dramatic role. It didn’t work in Casualties of War or Light of Day, and it sure as hell didn’t work in Bright Lights, Big City. Michael J. Fox is and always has been a acting comfort food, which is why even his worst movies (Doc Hollyood, The Secret of My Success) are so watchable (and to his credit, after Casualties, Fox got the hint and never seriously attempted a real dramatic role again, although he was fucking fantastic in The Frighteners).
All of which is to say, I welcome the do-over, although it’s hard not to be a little skeptical of Schwartz — he was behind “The O.C.,” “Gossip Girl,” and “Chuck,” and of those three, only the first season of “The O.C.” and all of “Chuck” are any good. My fear is that Schwartz may make the same mistake: A too lighthearted take on a darker novel. It should’ve been a DePalma film in the 80s, and it’s hard to imagine a truly appropriate director for the movie today.