Tuesday, June 25, 2013

BOOK + MOVIE: Less Than Zero

Author: Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho)
Country: United States
Year: 1985
Pages: 208
"The rich and spoiled children of Los Angeles have it all -- sex, drugs, fast cars, air-conditioned mansions. Theirs is a world shaped by television, rock music, and too much money; it is a world devoid of feeling and of hope. In a startling, staccato style reminiscent of music videos, Bret Easton Ellis re-creates this world in a dizzying journey through endless parties, seedy rock clubs, and the seamy underworld of drug dealing and prostitution. Haunting, unnerving, Less Than Zero is the inside story of a generation on a desperate search for the ultimate sensation."

Welcome to the world of the Lindsay Lohans, Paris Hiltons, & the Kardashians - and here I thought that Gossip Girl (tv show.. haven't read the books) was too much. Teenagers acting like adults, involved in a lot of sex, drugs, alcohol abuse which would probably make my mom froth in the mouth if she knew I was watching/reading about it.

The book sells itself as "The sensational national book-seller" - well, it is sensational indeed, to think this was published in the 80's, it actually surprised me that I felt appalled, offended, disturbed by what I was reading (I actually thought I have already been desensitized in this day and age of glorified teenage sex & drugs in media. How wrong was I?).

"Written on the bathroom wall at Pages, below where it says 'Julian gives great head. And is dead.': 'Fuck you Mom and Dad. You suck cunt. You suck cock. You both can die because that's what you did to me. You left me to die. You both are so fucking hopeless. Your daughter is an Iranian and your son is a faggot. You both can rot in fucking shitting asshole hell. Burn, you fucking dumbshits. Burn, fuckers. Burn.'"

I felt the angst, really.

"....and she thinks I want to hug her or something and she comes over to me and puts her arm around my back and says something like 'I think we've all lost some sort of feeling.'"

Sex, drugs, alcohol, nihilism. Disappear here. Decline. People are afraid to merge. Clay's detachment or numbness to what's happening around him. I really don't care. Like these kids who apparently have nothing to lose, aside from losing feeling, who resort to rape of a twelve year old girl, drugs, even jerking off to slasher/porn just to feel alive. The main character tries to escape that world, maybe he does, maybe he doesn't, I'm not sure... because I don't like him.

My Rating: 2.5/5 - I get the message. It's a life of ennui and indifference (it's interesting to see a group of kids already feeling this). Party after party, meaningless sex and faceless hook-ups. It's really a good close-up look in that world. And the stream of consciousness narrative works. It's not bad. But did I care for the story and characters? No. There's no connection, aside for the occasional pity towards the kids for the lack of parental love and guidance, and the shock and disgust at the horrible lifestyle of the rich, bored, and drugged. There's no satisfaction. The first word I actually uttered after reading the last page is "Fuck." A lazy, unsatisfied, yet a bit relieved "fuck."

* * * *

Directed by: Marek Kanievska
Screenplay by: Harley Peyton
Music by: Thomas Newman
Year: 1987
Running Time: 98 mins.
Starring: Andrew McCarthy (Clay), Jami Gertz (Blair),
Robert Downey Jr. (Julian Wells), James Spader (Rip)
Loosely-based is the operative word here. And thank god for that. In the book, it's all Clay. In the movie, I'm so glad they gave Julian the central focus, because Clay, for me, is just so damn negative and boring. I'm not saying Julian Wells is all sugar, spice, and everything nice, but at least he's got character. It works too that the actor portraying him is my favorite Robert Downey Jr. - every scene he's in, he steals the show. Andrew McCarthy, oh wimpy Andrew I have disliked you since Pretty in Pink, but I think he's an okay fit as Clay. Because Clay, to me, is just unlikeable. Although if you wanna look for the complexity of the "book Clay", then I don't think McCarthy could deliver in that aspect. He can do "detached" yes, "unlikeable" yes, "wimpy" yep, "complex"? uhmm no i don't think so. Jami Gertz, for me, is a miscast, I was looking for a prettier, more elegant Blair... and better-acting. James Spader did great as Rip.

One thing I like about this movie is that they gave spine and focus on the friendship of Clay, Blair, & Julian - which I didn't really see in the book. It gave the story more substance. But that's just me wanting to get something from it all. I know how Hollywood romanticize everything, and the book isn't that at all.


  • Brad Pitt was paid $38 for his uncredited appearance. (Partygoer /Preppie Guy at Fight) (his second uncredited gig in his early career) 

  • Keanu Reeves was originally cast as Clay Easton. 
  • This is the first film that Robert Downey Jr. is billed as "Robert Downey Jr.". All films previous he was billed as simply "Robert Downey". 

The Verdict:

The movie version is a toned-down, infinitely cleaner & more positive take on Ellis' disturbing novel - it still has captured the decadent lifestyle of the characters, but less of the shock value the novel has presented. I say "more positive" because the characters had redeeming qualities here, which the novel lacked, and the ending was kind of a happy ending despite of what happened. The movie, I felt, went on a cowardly path because it basically changed everything in the book. The Blair-Clay approach of the movie is so typical of Hollywood and it's one of the movie's aspects that I really didn't like. Two things that make this movie legit and worth watching though is the music which gives you that wonderful 80's vibe, and Robert Downey Jr.'s moving performance.

My Rating: 3.5/5 - Not a great one, but if you're an RDJ and 80's fan, then this movie is for you. I gave an extra .5 or so rating mainly for Downey's presence.

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    I loved this film because it most definitely depicted the sad reality of the spoiled rich being quite un appreciative of real life issues..... But, Julian was the symbol of someone loving life, having an addiction he could not control....A loving kind, giving, person,that brought life to those around him, while helplessly allowing the coke to take his life .

    Also the bond of true friendship was demonstrated here by the 3....

    Great review btw :)

    1. hehehe he was made boring and uninteresting bec of McCarthy... in the book, even though i didn't like him, he was a complex character... torn between two worlds... one that he grew up in, and the other world which he wants to escape to. to flee from the decadent world that his friends unfortunately couldnt escape.... as he watches them spiral down, detached..

      the movie, julian/downey, really is the star... and yes i liked that they added the friendship of the trio. it has some bittersweet feel to it.

      thank you!

    2. My pleasure . :)

      To me Julian was the ONLY one that had life in him,adventure,and a heart that felt real-love and appreciation... I was most impressed by Downey's courage and wit even when he was slowly crumbling, he tried to be up lifting with his two lifetime buddies... That was loyalty, even though he was slowly heading for an ending to rid him of demons he cld not destroy...

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  3. There was a message in this film, saying, " Bad things happen to good people!" aka: Drug addiction.... Which is indeed an illness....Stereo types of the world may say, " ohhh yeah, they were nothing but a drug-addict", when indeed they are sooo incorrect... It means they are a human being first trying to kick the habit but for some reason can not find the inner-strength to do so...
    Downey's character displayed an optimistic person fighting inner-demons with a very lethal addiction....Maybe this film will shed some light on understanding drug addiction...

    1. downey did a very chilling portrayal of a drug addict (knowing that he himself was an addict), to see him in that movie made me feel closer to him ahahhahahahahahah...

      on a serious note, i really dont know how drug addiction is, but yes, i saw his struggle, and it's quite affecting to see that the people around him doesnt do much to help him , aside from Clay and Blair... he really wanted to change, but as we all know, drugs is destructive.. you just need the right mindset, will, and support system to fight that... one of my favorite scenes in that movie is when they were helping julian get clean.. the three of them in the loft.. it was endearing to watch....

    2. I can attest that the scene you witnessed is very real indeed, and I closely related to the scene for I had a friend that was much like Julian, and its very personal and over powering to witness, real life or the film.... That's as raw and real as it gets between people really loving each other as real friends...

      Many people don't realize that have never had a drug addiction of any kind, or seen someone they know like that ,that it is truly a sickness, and could easily be put in the same family as other metal illnesses such as severe bi-polar disorder, Manic depression, post traumatic stress etc and other serious mental concerns... Addictions with drugs when reached the point Julian was in, is a very serious condition....

    3. the difference with drug addiction is that it is self-inflicted.. mental illness isn't... although i acknowledge that both need understanding and help, it's just that addicts receive less sympathy from others bec people don't care much, coz they did it to themselves.. in here, u sympathize with julian, bec u see his struggle, trying to find his place in his world, failing, finding fake solace in drugs, and trying to get back on his feet...

  4. I have thoroughly enjoyed our sharing thoughts on this review.... I hope others will find as we have, something meaningful from this book/film ... Looking forward to more excellent reviews such as this one....

    1. i love talking to people about movies and books :) sharing thoughts and inputs... thank you :)



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