After Hours is a pretty strange film. The individual events in it don’t really seem to make sense, leaving the viewer with the overall effect of absurdity. Though I can’t really say I enjoyed this film greatly, I didn’t dislike it either, and I’m finding that the more I think about it the more interesting it becomes.
Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) is an everyman sort of hero, a word processor who decides one night that he’s going to have a bit of fun with his life. He meets a girl, Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) at a coffee shop, gets her number, and then gets invited over to her apartment in SoHo. Basically everything happens except what he (and we) expect. Taking a cab to SoHo might as well be falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland for Paul, who witnesses all sorts of bizarre characters and gets caught in all sorts of bad luck. He looses all of his money, becomes accused of committing a string of robberies in the neighborhood and chased down by a mob, perhaps indirectly causes a girl’s suicide, and most importantly, just can’t seem to get himself home and out of this whole mess. One could almost see it as a screwball comedy if Paul’s situation weren’t so dire; instead of all of these small, silly misunderstandings leading to two attractive leads falling for each other, they conspire to keep Paul in SoHo and thus, danger.
This movie delves into some deep existential questions, just by the nature of what is happening to Paul. He and the viewers start looking for explanations. It seems as if Paul is being punished by some higher power, but we have no idea for what, if this is the case. One continually wonders what Paul could have done to get himself into this mess, even while we see it unfolding before our eyes. In his review (link at bottom), Ebert points out that Scorsese uses a lot of closeups to make us think (and probably to show that Paul is thinking) certain objects mean something, have some explanation of his plight. They never do. Paul is just a weak human adrift in the sea of confusion that is New York City at night. There are also reoccurring objects, such as the statues and the paperweights, that serve the same function. We see things in a story multiple times, we’re bound to think they mean something. In real life however, this is generally not the case.
However, that’s not to say that Paul is a completely powerless character, just pretty darn close to it. A very emotional scene in the film for me comes towards the end, where Paul finds refuge in an abandoned club and seems to finally find someone (Verna Bloom) he can just talk to without anything weird happening. They dance for a while, and she asks why he’s doing this. He replies that he just wanted to live. This really got to me, because all this guy wanted was to see this girl he met earlier and now look what happened. He ventures out to try and meet life and it basically defeats him. Of course, right after this he gets trapped in a paper mache statue; that brief calm didn’t last very long.
Though Paul is a pretty ordinary guy, the rest of the supporting characters are anything but. Marcy turns out to be pretty strange, and her sculptor roommate (Linda Fiorentino) perhaps even weirder. Paul also runs into her boyfriend, who coincidentally tends bar close by and seems to be the key to his getting home. A waitress at that same bar (Teri Gar) invites him home for a while and seems to be stuck in the early sixties. Catherine O’Hara gives a memorable turn as an ice cream truck vigilante. There’s an alarming amount of gay men about, and last but not least, Cheech and Chong riding around town stealing things.
There are many ways to interpret all the crazy, random stuff that happens to Paul over the course of this movie, and that, to me, is it’s main virtue. Though while I was watching the film I was mainly just thinking about how weird it was (because it is pretty weird), it’s stuck in my head for a couple of days afterwards, and I like it better now after thinking about it for a while. Those really are my favorite types of movies, ones that confuse you so much they take a couple of days and about 700 words to make sense of.
“I’ll probably get blamed for that.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
For Further Reading: