Cautionary Tales: Remembering “Less Than Zero”

Neal Damiano revisits Marek Kanievska’s Less Than Zero, a 1987 film that perfectly “captures the mood and scene of Los Angeles” during the eighties. The film topped our list of best “drug-themed” movies…

Cautionary Tales: Remembering Visually and emotionally riveting, Less Than Zero brought to life a vivid film adaptation of the contemporary classic novel by Bret Easton Ellis starring an all-star cast including Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey Jr, Jamie Gertz, and James Spader. No other film visually captures the mood and scene of Los Angeles in the mid eighties. There was an energy and excitement going on in downtown LA from the music and fashion to the partying and nightlife.

Clay (McCarthy) returns to Beverly Hills with a less than perfect situation where his girlfriend Blair (Gertz) is addicted to cocaine and his best friend Julian (Downey Jr) has a heroin habit the size of Utah. What makes the film so captivating is the fact that it is a life most of us do not lead. The bright lights, fancy clubs, textured clothes and pretty people shine without a care in the world. A life of money, privilege, and debauchery; that these people never seem bored with life is quite alluring. One nightclub to the next and party after party, shifting from person to person. The characters seem like ghosts with a sort of pushed emotion. It’s very much a character- centered film with the three central performances being near flawless. Clay as the aloof, almost cold observer now distant from the group and disillusioned from the lifestyle; Blair as the panic-struck girl watching her friend disintegrate into drug-fueled oblivion; and Julian completely destroying his overall being.

Less Than Zero, Top 10 Films, Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey Jr.,The whole movie looks as sensational as an MTV music video and perhaps acts as a cautionary tale. The need to connect to something real is brewing inside them. A deeper meaning of life is tapping at their conscious. We certainly don’t want their lives but maybe that’s why it’s so entrancing, that element of danger and constant gratification. Less Than Zero points an unforgiving finger at the excesses of the 1980s and takes us into the underbelly of a life that so many wished they could lead and so many wished they could forget.

Words by Neal Damiano

See more from Neal Damiano: Top 10 Must See 1980s High School Comedy Movies & Top 10 Quintessential 1980s Films

About the Author
Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.

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  1. NOLA Film Vibes Reply

    I STRANGELY LOVE THIS TRAGIC MOVIE

  2. Dan Grant Reply

    An incredibly riveting film with RDJ giving a classic performance. The entire cast is excellent with James Spader as slimey as ever. “Do I look like I’m ready for homework?” is one of the all time classic lines from the 80’s.

    Great write up Neal.

  3. Mansy Reply

    Underrated film.

  4. Callum Reply

    One for me to discover. Thanks Neal.

  5. Rory Reply

    Definitely captures that 80s vibe. Nice piece Neal.

  6. Neal Damiano Reply

    @ Dan Grant I absolutely love this film and I know you do too!!

    Thanks Rory, it sure does!!

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