Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, June 7, 2013

Director Report Card: Larry Clark (1998)

2. Another Day in Paradise

The first shot in “Another Day in Paradise” is of half-nude young people entwined in each other arms. As if you had any doubt about who directed this. Despite this, “Another Day in Paradise” is something like Clark’s play for mainstream success.  There’s comparatively little teenage humping and nudity. (Comparatively.) It stars well-known actors James Wood and Melanie Griffin. For the majority of its runtime, it works like a straight genre picture, a crime film, something the filmmaker generally avoids.

Clark didn’t write the script either. Christopher Landon and Stephen Chin adapted it from the novel by Eddie Little. Set in the 1970s, the story follows Bobbie and Rosie, two teenage junkies who have to commit petty theft in order to support their habit. Their roommate’s Uncle Mel, a drug dealer and professional robber, decides to recruit the kids into his business. Along with Mel’s girlfriend Sid, the four form an odd family of sorts. The group travel the country, stealing, selling drugs to increasingly dangerous criminals, doing drugs themselves, and occasionally partying. Life on the road eventually proves more difficult then either youth imagined.

Though adapted from pre-existing material and written by other hands, it’s clear to see Clark’s interest in the material. The first act features two young, thin teenage boys lounging around in their tighty-whities together. Bobbie and Rosie celebrate being accepted into Mel’s gang with an enthusiastic session of teenage sex. A brief flashback gives you an idea about Bobbie’s abusive, dysfunctional childhood. Moreover, the two kids inject and snort heroin with abandon. The film is unflinching in its portrayal of drug abuse. Characters tie off arms with rubber tubes, graphically probe around for veins, injecting themselves in the arms, legs, and even the neck. Had Woods and Griffin never walked into the story, this probably would have far more in common with “Kids” or “Bully.”

The middle section of the film, where the quartet gets their drug stealing and selling business going, is probably “Another Day in Paradise” at its most entertaining. The scenes of the gang celebrating their job with a day of clothes shopping and a night in a jazz club are infectiously entertaining. The two buy guns from a scripture-quoting weapons dealer, an endearingly odd touch. An attempt by two skinny goofs to turn the tide on their dealers goes hilariously awry. Things get ugly when a group of white supremacists attempt to rob Mel and the others. Behold, the only time Larry Clark could ever be called an “action” director. Melanie Griffin diving under a bed with a shotgun and blowing a thug’s leg off recalls a similar moment in “Miller’s Crossing,” which would later be referenced more famously in “Kill Bill.” For a director more famous for long scenes of teenage boys wandering around and chatting about pussy, sequences like this are odd, if energetic.

The pacing, Clark’s worst attribute, begins to falter not long after that. The group recuperates at a farm before heading back into the life, before anybody is ready for it. The second half of the movie is a lot less fun, even if an oddly uncredited Lou Diamond Philips camping it up as a flamboyant gay crime boss is a nice touch. The second heist goes wrong, completely off-screen, leading to a messy climax. Characters make several dramatic-for-dramatic’s sake decision and the film wraps up without resolving much. Clark’s lack of interest in the crime plot is more obvious here, as a major character’s sudden death is much more effective and upsetting.

What keeps the film afloat is James Woods and Melanie Griffin’s performances. Woods has played this type of character many times before. Mel is a fast-talking con man, with a sharp sense of humor and, ultimately, only interested in himself. Woods provides loads of personality to the part just by being himself. Whether harping other characters about their lack of experience, swinging guns around, or making snide asides about the cost of clothes, Woods is a delight. Griffin is also very good. Her Cyndi Lauper accent might push it a little far but Griffin invests genuine emotion in her motherly role. Natasha Gregson Wagner is also very good as Rosie, playing a wide range of emotional ups and downs easily.

It’s Vincent Kartheiser I’m not too sure about. In the early-going, as a smart-ass street thug, he does fine. After Woods tells him the money they’ll be making, he looks over his shoulder, into the car window, making an excited face, making sure Mel doesn’t see. Later on, as the script gets heavier, he becomes less believable. Woods doesn’t buy him bossing people around and neither do I. The character is not entirely sympathetic either. By the end, you’re supposed to believe that has learned that the criminal life isn’t for him. Either Kartheiser, the script, or both, can’t sell this, leading to the unsatisfying ending.

Clark’s direction includes a handful of interesting, hand-held shots and one or two visual flourishes. The period authentic soundtrack is excellent and, along with the costumes, help convincingly sell the setting. An interesting hybrid of traditional crime film and typical Larry Clark shenanigans, “Another Day in Paradise” starts strong but looses steam before the end. It would be the director’s first, and last, flirtation with mainstream Hollywood. [Grade: B-]


Sean Catlett said...

Ohhh, Angel's son played the lead? No wonder I thought we has an annoying little shit at the time.

Bonehead XL said...

That's what I recognizes him from too. He's not a bad actor, per say, but he certainly isn't very good at making his characters likable.