Picks and Pans Review: Light of Day
Talk about your dubious distinctions: Here's the first rock musical ever whose plot hinges on ovarian cancer. Hardly a box office come-on. Writer-director Paul (Mishima) Schrader does dangle attractive bait in Michael J. Fox, of Back to the Future, and rocker Joan Jett, making an auspicious acting debut. It helps too that Bruce Springsteen contributed a shake-me-wake-me title song (the Boss might have felt he owed Schrader a favor, having previously borrowed the title of Schrader's screenplay, Born in the U.S.A.). For the rest, the movie is a series of missed opportunities. Nice guy Fox and bad girl Jett might have made an interesting sexual chemistry. But Schrader has cast them as brother and sister, a doubly numskull notion, since they haven't the slightest resemblance in looks or speech. Sis has an illegitimate 4-year-old (charmingly enacted by Billy Sullivan), leaving Fox to play big brother, which he does skillfully here and every week on Family Ties. So Mike, where's the stretch? The closest the movie comes to erotic intrigue is in guessing the identity of the child's daddy, which readers of The Scarlet Letter should figure out in an instant. Mostly we watch Fox work days at a Cleveland metal-pressing plant and nights at grungy local clubs where he backs his singer sister in a rock band. In the club scenes—there are too few of them—the forceful Jett really is something to see and hear. And you believe her fierce desire to make music, no matter who suffers. But Schrader trades the authenticity of this rock life on the fringes for a phony melodrama that centers on Fox and Jett's strained relationship with their parents, a middle-class couch-potato of a father (Jason Miller) and a domineering, religious mother, played by the usually reliable Gena Rowlands with more tics and tremors than you'd see on a whole month of daytime soaps. It's Rowlands who gets the cancer, leading to confrontations, conversions and reconciliations that you'll think you've seen before because you have, dear reader, you have. The action is so downbeat that, at the end, Fox and Jett try to rouse the audience into a party mood with a song. Some party. (PG-13)
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