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Netflix Daily Pick: Spiralling Down in ‘Less Than Zero’ (1988)

Today's pick is a classic 80s drug abuse film starring Robert Downey Jr.

Less Than Zero is a 1987 drama about a college freshman who returns to L.A. for the holidays at his ex-girlfriend’s request, but discovers that his former best friend has an out-of-control drug habit.

Today’s Netflix Pick is a classic book-to-film adaptation that helped launch the careers of a few future stars and is considered one of the best films about drug addiction ever made. Starring Robert Downey Jr,  and James Spader, the film became a kind of phenomenon on release, with a terrific young cast and a hip soundtrack, and even though critics were divided, audiences made it a solid Box Office hit. It’s Less Than Zero and it’s what you’re watching tonight. Here’s why.

THE STORY: Directed by Marek Kanievska, good boy Clay Easton (Andrew McCarthy) is a college student on the East Coast returning to LA for the Christmas holiday, finding things are not quite the way they were when he left. His former girlfriend, Blair (Jami Gertz) is now hooked on cocaine and in a sexual relationship with his best friend Julian Wells (Robert Downey, Jr.). Wells, once a promising entrepreneur has lost his startup company and is now stealing money to support his growing drug addiction. Homeless and barely surviving, he is in massive debt to a drug dealer and former school pal Rip (James Spader). Now, as Clay and Blair reunite, they must find a way to help Julian before he is lost forever.

Less Than Zero
Less Than Zero, 1987 © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: Stylish and dripping in 80s flair, Less Than Zero is a great looking and very well-acted film, with Downey Jr. especially good as the drug-addled Julian spiraling out of control. There were a number of movies in this era that centered on cocaine abuse, including Bright Lights, Big City, and this film is remembered as one of the best in the genre. What Downey Jr. does here is eerily affecting, the tragedy of Julian often a hard thing to watch. That aside, the film is loaded with 80s pop and relevant songs and it’s got great energy that seems to get better with age. Well worth watching again or more so for the first time. It’s streaming on Netflix right now.