“After Hours” Review — A Fever Dream Masterpiece

“I’ll probably get blamed for that.”

After Hours (1985), is such an insane, fever dream of a movie. It tests its characters to their absolute limits, seeing how much you can really put somebody through.But what the movie really asks of Paul, and of the audience, is why is this happening?

It starts off with Paul (Griffin Dunne) at work as a word processor, training a new kid how to run the computer file systems. The kid tells him how this isn’t how he wants to spend his life, how it’s boring, and that he has bigger plans for himself than just being a word processor. This scene is so important to Paul’s character, since it most likely is why he went out in the first place. Feeling the need for spontaneity in his life and wanting to be more than just a word processor. In Paul’s words, he wants to just go out, have fun, and meet a girl.

“What do you want from me? I’m just a word processor!”

But Paul does go out, reading his favorite book in a nearby coffee shop where he meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette). They hit it off, and he gets her number after being intrigued by some Plaster of Paris paperweights her friend makes. She leaves and he heads home, calling the number as soon as he does. She invites him over to where she’s staying so they can talk more. It made me think of the same thing that happens in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when Jim Carrey calls Kate Winslet, saying that oddly enough he missed her, which holds two possible references to this movie with that exchange being shared with another character.

This is where the movie starts drifting away from any sort of normal narrative and we take a trip into the fever dream. From the incessant cab ride on, Paul gets blamed for a string of burglaries in the area, sought after by a violent mob, and mummified. Things that you see, and you really do start to sympathize for Paul. Many times, he is so close, but not quite there to being able to just… get… home.

A lot of this movie is insanely frustrating like that, but in a very funny way. Maybe due to just how ridden with anxiety the film makes the viewer. Two immediate scenes that stick out in this regard, when Paul is at the subway station trying to buy a ticket home and the attendant (Murray Moston) just isn’t having it. As well as the scene in the bar where Tom the bartender (John Heard) is trying to get change out of the register so he can take the subway home… that’s cinema right there. There’s also just a hilarious moment in the diner where Victor Argo’s character has ready the cheeseburger and coffee that Paul had ordered before dashing away. What this leads to, is that this movie, on top of being just very insane, is very funny. Something that is always appreciated, because we know Martin Scorsese can mix humor well in his movies. Look at The Wolf of Wall Street’ and Goodfellas for examples of movies that aren’t exactly comedies but have so many moments where you just cannot help but start laughing.

And what is this movie if not for its supporting cast, who do just as good a job as Dunne in this movie. We also have the unusual sculptress friend Kiki played by Linda Fiorentino. June (Verna Bloom), Neil and Pepe (Cheech and Chong), Julie (Teri Garr), and there’s even more where that came from. But those are the ones that really shine and help fill out the rest of this ensemble. I won’t lie either, the scenes with John Heard were some of my favorite in the movie.

What really makes this movie work is that is no real message or lesson to be learned. It really is, as they say, ‘No Plot Just Vibes: The Movie’. There are some existential moments, and you start to look for answers seeing how this could be happening to somebody like Paul, but there are no answers. Paul is just having a really, really bad night. But of course, the movie wants you to think about what’s happening and why, because that’s what Paul is asking himself. Look at all the closeups on Paul during these things, look at the confused look. He never really asks himself, why is this happening? Not out loud anyways.

My Rating: 5/5

Overall, I think it’s one of Scorsese’s best films, and one of his most undervalued. I mean, if you look on IMDb it’s ranked 17thin his filmography, and 14th on Letterboxd in terms of popularity. I also find it just very hard to find things wrong with this movie. I don’t think wondering what’s going on is a fault to this film but is the point and helps the movie in its existence.

If you do want to watch the movie, it was streaming, making it very accessible, but is only available for rent or purchase at the time of writing. In this writer’s opinion though, it is easily worth a few dollars and cents to watch.

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