Less Than Zero opens with the high school graduation of three friends Julian (Robert Downey Jr.), Clay (Andrew McCarthy) and Claire (Jami Gertz). They are flawless, bubbly, precocious and have the world at their feet.
Then a title ‘6 months later’… Turns out much can happen in 6 months.
The plans of a half year prior have been shelved for all bar the studious Clay, the only member of the trio who left the cosy confines of Los Angeles to attend college. He returns to find former squeeze Claire banging his best friend Julian, who has a total drug dependency issue that everyone wants to fix by any means bar actually addressing it.
Rip the drug dealer (James Spader) doesn’t help. He likes Julian buzzed. The proliferation of rich airhead parties in shiny LA isn’t beneficial either, with drugs and those that would supply them everywhere.
As with every film about drug culture we have parties and trysts in hallways lit by red lightbulbs. We have awkward fully clad sex scenes with more favourable lighting and woozy 80s pop music. We have well coiffed, zit free, expensively attired teens acting in an obnoxiously entitled manner. I seriously don’t recall seeing a t-shirt across the films 90 minutes.
Teenage 1980s me might have been impressed, even envious, but jaded 2017 me finds this an airbrushed cop-out that panders to the audience and for the most part divorces itself from the reality of the tragedy of addiction.
Robert Downey Jr is not to blame, and by all accounts he was quite ‘method’ in his research, but aside from perhaps inspiring the 90210s and The OC’s version of the ‘hard truth’, Less Than Zero is a competent but largely benign time capsule of a different time and a different place.
Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. Living the life in a plastic bubble.