[LIGHT OF DAY screens Friday March 18th at 7:30pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque. Writer/director Paul Schrader will be on hand to answer questions afterward.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
Paul Schrader's LIGHT OF DAY is not your typical rock n roll move. You know the kind I'm talking about, where the talented young garage band magically writes a hit single together at practice, get “discovered”, hit the big time, fall prey to the perils of success, and then eventually manage an uplifting comeback at the end of the movie. Rather than follow that tired old formula, Schrader's film focuses on the sort of working class band that manages just enough local success to feed the egos and delusions of its less practical members, allowing them to remain in a state of perpetual adolescence, certain in the knowledge that they're going to be a rock star. And what better town to set such a movie than Cleveland, Ohio, referred to by some musicians I know as “the land of almost”.
Of course it doesn't help if your band is called “The Barbusters”. No band with a name like that, regardless of where they're from and even if they do have Bruce Springsteen writing their material (“The Boss” wrote the film's theme song), is ever going to make it. But Patti (Joan Jett) has just the right mix of artistic and narcissistic personality traits to keep on trying, aided and abetted by her more sensible brother Joe (Michael J. Fox).
Hey, everyone deserves to have a dream, but Patti's is coming at the expense of her young son Benji (Billy L. Sullivan). The rock lifestyle has also driven a wedge between Patti and her extremely religious mother Jeanette (Gena Rowlands), although relations were already strained due to the lack of a father for Benji. When Joe gets laid off, Patti decides the band (which also includes Spinal Tap's David St. Hubbins himself, Michael McKean, on bass) should try to really make it, and books them on an out of town tour. Stardom does not immediately follow, but it does give Joe an opportunity to see how irresponsible a mother Patti really is.
Probably more than any other film I've seen, LIGHT OF DAY gets what it's like to play in a local band right. Going to shitty day jobs, committing petty crimes, staying at run down hotels; whatever it takes so you can keep getting up on stage, delusions of rock star grandeur aside, because the music means something to you.
And yet as good as that part of the movie is, it's not really the main focus of LIGHT OF DAY. At its heart, this is a movie about a damaged family trying to deal with each other despite some major obstacles, and hopefully reach a point where forgiveness and acceptance are possible.
Jett isn't nearly as riveting an actress as she is a performer. She acquits herself adequately, but Fox winds up carrying the film, even though it's Jett's Patti who has the most complex character arc on paper. Rowlands also gives a good supporting performance, with her Jeanette always feeling like a real person and not some stereotypical movie “religious kook”.
Despite having been released in 1987, LIGHT OF DAY feels more like a film from the early seventies with its serious tone and mature depiction of regular, working class people thanks to Schrader's understated and believable script and direction. It doesn't quite add up to a great film, but it's at least a sincere and interesting one. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.
NOTE TO CLEVELANDERS: not only is LIGHT OF DAY set in our fair city, a good amount of it was filmed here. In particular, a number of scenes were shot at the Euclid Tavern, and at one point we get to see a a few seconds of eighties Cleveland synth pop band The Exotic Birds (featuring a young Trent Reznor) performing.