Thursday, December 10, 2020

Perfect (James Bridges, 1985)


James Bridges’ 1985 film Perfect has some weighty ambitions: to explore confused journalistic ethics by contrasting a reporter’s principled behaviour in one weighty situation (involving a high-profile businessman under indictment) with his carelessness on another story (a lifestyle piece about California health clubs) that’s objectively less important, but in which lives and reputations might nevertheless be damaged; at the same time, the film is in part itself an investigation of that health club milieu, seemingly fascinated by its embodiment of how the casual sexuality of the 60’s and 70’s is becoming a mechanized commodity, summed up by so many shots of hot young bodies all moving in exactly the same way. Unfortunately, the film undermines its journalistic strand through endless over-simplification, and while the health club strand could have been anthropologically interesting, Bridges doesn’t maintain any critical distance from the period’s drab musical and aesthetic norms (put another way, the movie too often seems like a wildly extended video for Olivia Newton-John’s Physical). The reporter in question, Adam (John Travolta), works for Rolling Stone, here prominently playing itself (the cooperation provided to the movie seems a little surprising now, given how badly the magazine comes off in some respects, but perhaps that testifies to its sense of impregnability at the time) and in a way the film serves itself best simply by the relative amount of time it devotes to staring at words on Adam’s computer screen – it takes the craft seriously enough to immerse us in what seem like real extracts from real Rolling Stone articles, even if the movie around them scarcely conveys where they could possibly have come from. However, it does less well by its main female character, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, her initial strong physical presence and emphasized sexual self-determination ultimately devolving into an almost wordless ornamentation, admiringly waiting for her man.

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