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Review: In Chicago, Danny Martin (Rob Lowe) and Bernie Litgo (James Belushi) are best friends and co-workers at a restaurant supply company. Bernie is a self-professed womanizer who tells tales of outrageous sexual encounters to his friend while Danny just wants to meet a nice girl and settle down. They play in a softball league and after a game are in a bar when Danny catches sight of a pretty brunette across the way who seems interested. She is Debbie Sullivan (Demi Moore), a somewhat successful artist at an advertising agency who lives with her best friend Joan (Elizabeth Perkins) a cynical woman who sees little interest in men other than for sexual satisfaction.
Danny and Debbie have an instant attraction and after some drinks end up spending the night together at Danny’s place. The sex is good and they feel comfortable with each other and decide to give a relationship a shot, despite the complaints from both of their friends. Not too long after, as both their emotional and physical bonds grow, they take a big step and Debbie moves in with Danny, much to the dismay of Joan and Bernie. At first, it goes very well as their first real adult relationship seems perfect, each exploring and learning about who this other person is and what make them unique. But these discoveries create narrow cracks that widen as time passes and they must accept that love is more than just good times and casual sex.
Directed by Edward Zwick (Glory) and written by David Mamet (based on his play Sexual Perversity in Chicago), About Last Night is a sincere, sometimes brutally honest look at young love and sex that handles its subject with maturity. While it dabbles in comedy, the laughs are grounded and genuine, stemming from an authenticity that permeates throughout. Never painted in broad strokes, Debbie and Danny are vulnerable, sensitive, confused, honest and unsure as they explore their relationship and what new challenges it brings. Both have casual sexual histories they might want to forget, but this is different. The story is as much about letting go of the tenuous strings of youth and gripping the reigns of adulthood as it is about the real commitment and what that does to everyone involved. Both Moore and Lowe are very strong as the young couple, each powerfully effective as a pair of lovers caught up in the chemistry of their physical relationship and overwhelmed by the weight of their emotional affection. This is new ground for them and testing the waters is challenging and sometimes painful, especially for the friends who devote their time to protecting them, right or wrong. Belushi and Perkins are more broadly drawn and responsible for the film’s biggest laughs, but still very good.
A love story is hardly an easy thing to make fresh in movies. How many different ways can we see two people meet, fall in and out and then back in love? What makes good films work is usually what these people say and with About Last Night, these people say intelligent, meaningful and most importantly, recognizable things. We can identify with Debbie and Danny, understand their fears, joy, and confusion. Lowe and especially Moore, are wholly convincing and Mamet’s script does play on the tropes, never making it feel formulaic even though everything about it is. Watch as Moore hits every mark with surprising affection for her character, giving her finest on screen performance as she is consumed by Debbie, transcending the girl-in-love Hollywood mold. There is tremendous power in her eyes as she carries Debbie through this journey and with Lowe creates one of the most memorable couples in film. About Last Night is a warm-hearted, adult story that treats its characters and its audience with respect, making this one of the best romance movies ever made.
Scene Setup: As Debbie and Danny both struggle with and celebrate their blossoming relationship, they keep encountering hurdles, some insignificant, others devastatingly so. Danny is not so quick to let go of his wilder ways, and while he feels great affection for Debbie, wants to know that he is still attractive to others. He is pressured by Bernie to play it cool and not dote over Debbie, making decisions that are sometimes cold. He has a dream to open his own diner, but can’t seem to find the right path to make it happen, either because he hasn’t confidence or the direction. Meanwhile, Debbie is dealing with the sacrifice of giving up her own independence in moving into Danny’s apartment. She takes to it with a kind of obligation of what she thinks is her role as a woman, but it’s not easy and she feels unsure of what she is doing. Their complications are minor but appear very large. They split but come back together and with an unspoken embrace agree to try again. At a Christmas party held at each of their respective jobs, both consider where their future’s lie.
The Moment (Timestamp 01:12:19): Before dating Danny, Debbie was sleeping with her boss, Steve (Robin Thomas). Steve treated the relationship very casually, which is partly why Debbie ended it. He’s never given up flirting with her though, and at the party, dressed as Santa, spies Debbie making copies in the office while everyone else is having a good time. He slips away from the party and goes to her, making it so they are alone in the room. He takes off his fake beard and Santa hat and teases her about last year’s party where they fooled around in this very room. Shutting off the light, he makes a move on her, thinking she will, as she had done in the past, simply have sex with him. But this year is different. Debbie is different and she pushes him away. She tells him there is somebody else now, though he fires back. sardonically that he doesn’t see a ring. She angrily counters that she doesn’t need a ring, and demands that he look at her, asking him to see that she looks different, that she is in love and that he should see that in her. She goes on to say that this has never happened to her before, that she wants to have ten kids with Danny and can’t understand why it doesn’t show.
This is where the movie does the right thing and refuses to be like every other in this genre. Debbie is a real woman, a person with heart who is complicated by love and can’t find a way to make sense of it all but knows that it feels right even when it hurts the most. Steve is meant to be the jerk, but he actually isn’t, and the film handles him deftly. When she confesses her emotions to him, he doesn’t smirk and feign interest and try to get back in her pants. Instead, he stops, he listens, and we see that for once, he does look at Debbie for who she is, and he does see the love. He sincerely asks her if Danny loves her back. Debbie’s response is heartbreaking. Moore is exceedingly good here and the expression on her face is devastating.
This moment is the turning point for both Debbie and Danny. As Debbie is confronting Steve, Danny is at his party turing down free sex with a loose woman at his job. He is confused and hurt as well and while he is reactionary and emotional, he is also in love, even if the meaning is lost on him at the time. Debbie pulls on his heart in ways no other person ever has and like Debbie, even though it hurts, it’s everything to him now. She’s everything to him now.
About Last Night is a wonderful little film that falls for a few conventions of the period and genre, but comes out as one of the best and remains a truly great romance film that easily stands the test of time. This is a classic.