The '80s On Repeat: Less Than Zero (1987) Reviewed

Time. Time. Time. See what's become of me. While I looked around for my possibilities. I was so hard to please. 

Lyrics that perfectly define the three central characters in a film that can be recognized immediately by its depressing story of youth spinning out into madness. 

In a time that gave us comedic teenage romps like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Risky Business, and Sixteen Candles, this tale of drugs and sexuality came along to infuse the cinematic landscape with a dose of morbid reality. Choices have consequences. Less Than Zero spends its entire run time beating its audience over the head with a fast lane mentality that’s amplified by soulless glamour, beautiful set pieces, and personified self destruction that’s dusted in white powder and doused in beautiful light.

Perhaps a seething indictment of the drug addled, material haze of the Reagan era, Marek Kanieveska's adaptation of Less Than Zero still holds a place in the annals of pop culture history and remains a piece of classic retro cinema that defines the '80s. 

Powered by a soundtrack that features decade staples LL Cool J, The Cult, The Bangles, and numerous other major acts of the era, this piece of celluloid perfection is a time capsule that captures a lifelike perception of Robert Downey Jr.'s drug fueled years and two other fine actors that render exacting performances as his best friends. A young Andrew McCarthy plays the support system as Jami Gertz defines callousness. Like a finely tuned machine, the Bret Easton Ellis novel is transposed to the screen, giving audiences a shocking look inside the excesses of the decade and the contagious but sometimes lonely spirit of the west coast. Materialism is at a fever pitch. Friendships are challenged by selfishness as a villainous James Spader casts a long shadow over the entire film.

Where TV shows like Miami Vice looked at the criminal element of the drug trade, Less Than Zero mostly centers on how the cocaine boom strangled the creativity and livelihood from a large percentage of young people. As a reflection of Downey's very own struggles with drugs and the law, Less than Zero doesn't hold back. Looking straight into a mirror that reflects a morbid curiosity, this gem of the ‘80s will continue to stand out as one of the best from that time. Unlike so many other cinematic releases from that time, it doesn’t beat around the bush, but gets straight to the core. Instead of placating it’s audience with barebones defacto characters, back story plays a major part here, showing us exactly when things started to go wrong and also giving us a core ideal of how the friendships used to be. Using the amazing cast to their full potential, the director defines the essence of personal disintegration through the perils of addiction. With Downey’s habits already at full tilt, he gives the performance of his early career.

Many projects that try to attack this same subject matter fail by becoming too preachy or unrealistic. With Less Than Zero, nothing could be further from the truth. This entire movie is oozing with a specific neon tone and a mutual dynamic between director and cast that signifies the essence of the 1980s. It’s all done without ever feeling forced or misaligned. Everything that’s done here is to capture a snapshot, a blink of the eye, or a small piece of the puzzle that still resonates today in our pop culture. This was a time that helped shape our current world. Going back and watching it again, it’s shocking how the rudiments of the story still hold true. It’s also amazing how this basic plot has stood the test of time.

Less Than Zero is a classic. With the ‘80s on repeat, we suggest you finally see this movie. Or if you have, see it again. Thirty years later, it’s just as vital.

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