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Image Entertainment presents
"It was my old enemy - the El."
DVD ReviewA Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon stars River Phoenix as Reardon, a seventeen-year-old boy living on Chicago's North Side circa 1962. Strapped for college tuition, he struggles to find meaning in his life as his wealthier friends head off to school and his family life becomes more oppressive daily. Meanwhile, his romantic entanglements and philandering threaten his relationship with Lisa (Meredith Salenger), the only girl he really cares about.
This is one of those stories that's ninety percent utterly predictable, then manages to take a left turn into something that actually works, even if it's a little too late to save the film as a whole. William Richert directed this film from his own screenplay, based in turn on a novel he wrote at the age of nineteen. The movie retains a certain literary feel, but some of the character's angry-young-man beat-poet weltschmerz comes off as self-centered, clumsy and artless onscreen. The late River Phoenix plays Reardon with little humor, leaving the intended comic aspects of the story to his costars, most of whom exhibit minimal acting skills with two notable exceptions: Ann Magnuson is sweetly sexual as lonely divorcee Joyce Fickett, and the talented but since-vanished young actress Louanne has a lot of fun as Jimmy's gossipy friend Suzie Middleberg. (While Matthew Perry would go on to television success on the series Friends, he doesn't stand out in an early role here as Jimmy's friend Fred Roberts.)
There are lots of things that don't work here—Jimmy's vaunted beat poetry is clichéd and awful, his relationships with others (women in particular) are shallow and self-serving, and his personal struggles are teacup tempests with little consequence to the story or Jimmy's own prospects. And the film's direction and cinematography are sometimes awkward, with many moments overplayed, underplayed or otherwise mishandled. But writer/director Richert makes some admirable, meaningful choices in the last act. I don't want to give anything away, but you may be able to make a few "predict-the-ending" wagering dollars from your jaded friends with this one. Sure, it's a movie about a selfish, angrily whiny young man, playing more as teen fantasy than any credible reality, 1962 Chicago or otherwise (though the Elevated Train as metaphor for the black hole of middle-class existence is an interesting idea). But there's some value here, even if it's extremely well-hidden; an agate in the rough, perhaps.
Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon is presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical widescreen aspect ratio with an attractive anamorphic transfer. The source print suffers from dirt flecking, especially around reel changes, with a slightly soft late-80's look overall. There's just a bit of light grain in the image, and detail and color are generally solid if not spectacular. Image's DVD is free of distracting compression artifacts, and the film looks great aside from a few print flaws.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Image presents A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon in its original Dolby 2.0 Surround audio as well as a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The presentation is generally solid, with clear analog dialogue and surprisingly crisp music, though there's nothing in the film that will really push anyone's audio system, and the rear surrounds are nearly unused. The 2.0 track sounds just a bit flat and muddy compared to the 5.1 discrete mix, but both sound just fine and support the film properly.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Extras Review: There's nothing to see here— 14 picture-menu chapter stops, with no subtitles or other standard features, let alone any real extras. Move along, folks.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon is a late-80's teen movie with some degree of substance hidden beneath its excruciatingly angst-ridden trappings. Image's DVD features a fine transfer, but no supplements. Flawed, but worth considering as a rental.
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