After Hours (1985)
Written by Joseph Minion
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Following Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese made The King of Comedy, a thematic companion piece to Taxi Driver. The audience’s expectations didn’t match what the director had in mind and so it did not perform well at the box office while being well received by critics. Roger Ebert tussled with the film and declared it “one of the creepiest […] and best of the year.” The 1980s would prove to be an odd decade for Scorsese and he seemed to embrace that strangeness in After Hours. This was a dark comedy based on a stage monologue and Scorsese would come to explain that the film reflected his personal frustrations dealing with studios while trying to get The Passion of the Christ produced.
Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) is a computer data entry office stooge. One evening after a boring day of work he is sitting in a cafe drinking coffee and reading a book. He has a meet-cute with Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) who happens to mention she lives with sculptor Kiki (Linda Fiorentino) who makes plaster bagels with cream cheese paperweights. Paul asks for their number under the auspices of buying one of them and gives her a ring when he gets back to his place. This leads to a midnight trip to Soho where he meets Kiki and waits awkwardly for Marcy to return. The night quickly descends into surreal chaos as Paul learns there’s some strange lying going on about Marcy’s situation and is mistaken for a burglar that is robbing so many apartments that night.
After Hours is filled with familiar faces like John Heard, Teri Garr, Catherine O’Hara but is the first film in nine years where Scorsese was not working with Robert DeNiro. Beyond that, this doesn’t feel like anything the director had ever made. It fits nicely into that 1980s subgenre of the “yuppie malaise” where a young working professional becomes caught in a series of increasingly strange scenarios. Other films in this vein might be Blue Velvet or Something Wilder. There are elements of noir and Preston Sturges style screwball comedy lumped in for good measure. After Hours doesn’t always work but it does have brilliant moments where Scorsese seems to seize upon some magically wild element in the air.
There is a strong psychoanalytic mood woven through the whole picture. Paul is obviously sexually frustrated and Marcy is almost a figment of his imagination, wanting nothing more than sex with him and then suddenly crying for no obvious reason. She tells him she’s married but they are done, then suddenly expresses how deeply in love she is with her husband. Women eventually lead a wild mob of angry SoHo residents against Paul and he’s rescued in a very unconventional way by the last woman he meets in the story. The ending of the film seems to hint that everything is reset, he’ll go back to his daily drudge.
The picture looks brilliant and Scorsese is definitely experimenting with his visuals. There’s definitely a commercial vibe that will carry over into his next film. It’s clear he’s shaken off the depression and insecurities that came after New York, New York. He’s comfortable experimenting and working with screenwriters he doesn’t have experience with. Behind the scenes, he was biding his time until he was able to secure money and distribution for The Last Temptation of Christ. One of those compromises came when he took the directing gig for his next film, The Color of Money.