Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Allnighter: Susanna Hoffs and Precious Little Else

The Allnighter [PG-13] 1987 - Starring: Susanna Hoffs, Joan Cusack, Michelle Pfeiffer's Sister
Before you start hitting me with questions like, "Why would you sit through something like this?" may I please remind you that Susanna Hoffs is a great musician and that I love her music enough to sit through her underwhelming performance in a movie.

All the pieces were there for me to add The Allnighter to my repertoire of movies I like despite poor critical and popular reaction (see: Mystery Men, Evil Alien Conquerors, Midnight Madness etc). I tend to love high school and college movies, especially ones in which all problems are caused and solved by partying (classic example: Can't Hardly Wait. Also, I really love the song "Maybe Partying Will Help" by The Minutemen. I am a man of contrasts). Let's set the table for this by pointing out that I love this genre of movie and I love Susanna Hoffs. Everything was set up for me to like this movie.

Susanna Hoffs (whose mother wrote and directed this movie) stars as Molly, the non-romantically attached soon-to-be-graduating valedictorian of Pacifica College. She lives off campus with Joan Cusack and Michelle Pfeiffer's sister. I finished the movie 15 minutes ago and I could not tell you the names of their characters if my life depended on spewing cliches. Also, I don't remember seeing an actual college anywhere in this movie. I don't know if they couldn't get the rights to one or if they really just thought the movie would be better without it, but there is less college in this movie than any other college movie I have ever seen.

Joan Cusack is an aspiring filmmaker who is constantly taking horrible footage with a giant old school camcorder. She's like Winona Rider's character in Reality Bites only talentless and annoying. Michelle Pfeiffer's sister is engaged to a dorky blueblood who is begging for a come-uppance from the first time he appears on screen. Susanna Hoffs is in love with one of two surfer dudes who constantly keep barging into the girls' house. The surfer dude almost tells Susanna Hoffs that he loves her in the opening scene, so there's really no tension driving what should be the main love interest.

The main problem with The Allnighter (other than the fact that it doesn't even seem like an all-nighter in the classic sense of the word) is that every single one of the characters is flat and cliched. There is absolutely no on-screen chemistry between any of the characters, even the ones you know will end up together. Nothing jumps out at you and nothing begs you to care what happens to these characters. You know at one point that Joan Cusack and Michelle Pfeiffer's sister are going to be busted (wrongly) for prostitution, but it doesn't make you concerned at all. Even if this movie took a wild turn and became a slasher flick, you still wouldn't care who got stabbed because nobody even has the character depth of a horror movie victim. It's just a lifeless, bland concoction that slowly oozes off the screen. At no point in The Allnighter do you get the feeling that someone is carrying a single scene, let alone the entire movie.

Acting and character depth aside, Susanna Hoffs' mom did a bad job writing this movie. It relies too heavily on the viewer's assumptions of what college movies are all about and does too little in the way of actual storytelling. Take, for example, the fiesta. This is the party at which dramatic tension is supposed to build. Surfer dude goes off with random blonde girl instead of protagonist causing protagonist to chase after random alumni and apparent rock star who is only there to make sparks fly with protagonist's advisor. Michelle Pfeiffer's sister's fiancee acts like an idiot, causing Michelle Pfeiffer's sister (yes, I'm going to keep doing that) to question their relationship. The party is the most important part of a college/high school movie and Susanna Hoffs' mom botched it big time. Add to it the fact that Susanna and her surfer dude don't even kiss until the last 5 minutes of the movie and we're supposed to feel good about their relationship despite the fact that surfer dude is going to law school in Minnesota and we have no idea what Susanna Hoffs (who doesn't seem smart enough to be the valedictorian. Sorry) is going to do. And we're supposed to feel closure with this last-minute no future relationship?! I've seen enough college/high school movies to know the formula and this ain't it.

They even put the ball on the tee for Susanna Hoffs when she did the walk of shame to the podium just in time to give her valedictory address right after her dalliance with surfer dude. The scene was set up perfectly. Everyone was cheering. Joan Cusack and Michelle Pfeiffer's sister were beaming as if they knew she was going to knock her valedictory address out of the park, sum up all the important lessons they've learned in the movie, and give a glimpse of the future. That's how this scene is supposed to work. I've seen it a billion times before in coming-of-age movies that are actually good. Instead of wrapping everything up in her address, Susanna Hoffs says the following in a completely deadpan tone (and yes, I went back and transcribed it word for word from the movie): "Many things have happened. Some really great things. Anyway, how can we sum up four years at Pacifica in words? What I've come to realize is a nutshell...experience is really your best teacher. And um..the experiences we've had here together is the best we'll ever have. So the main thing I wanna say is...everyone here, all the graduating seniors of Pacifica, thanks. It's been great."  That's your big finale?! That's how you wrap it all up and put a bow on top?! Where's the catharsis? Where's the moral of the story? Where's the inspiration?

The Allnighter is not a good movie. I only recommend it to fans of Susanna Hoffs who want to remember how cute she was back when Prince was in love with her. Aside from that, this movie has no other redeeming qualities (except for one of my favorite Redd Kross songs that plays in the background for about 30 seconds. Seriously, that was a big highlight for me). More than anything this movie shows us why we have well-trod formulas for college and high school movies.

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