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In Which Everything Is Two Dimensional

Everything Is Less Than Zero

by Molly Lambert

Thoughts about the original Gossip Girl, Bret Easton Ellis, and the kitschy movie of his kitschy first novel Less Than Zero

A little background, and some personal information (there's always personal information, you should know this by now). I went to private school in Los Angeles. I did not go to the same private school as Bret Easton Ellis, but a couple of my friends did and so did Rashida Jones.

Less Than Zero is one of those rare instances where the movie surpasses the book, in that it is CAST PERFECTLY. Robert Downey Jr. plays the same character (himself) in every movie. It's what makes him such a great movie star. He makes the character of Julian three-dimensional, which he isn't in the book. In the book he's more of an offscreen presence, a cipher, the Tino of the piece.

Downey plays him as himself, and thus somehow makes a junkie rentboy lovable. You actually care that the other two dull protagonists (Clay and Blair) are trying to rescue him because he's Robert Downey Jr. and we already know how the next decade of this brilliant young actor's life is going to turn out (not so good).

There's no sexual tension whatsoever between the leads. Jami Gertz plays Blair like a less butch Demi Moore. Andrew McCarthy plays Clay exactly as he's written; a closeted gay. All the sexual menergy is between Clay, Julian, and Rip.

Clay is still two-dimensional, which is why Andrew McCarthy is perfectly cast. He's a two-dimensional actor, cute and empty. But he's neither as cute nor as empty as James Spader, King of Pervs, who plays Rip the coke dealer.

Is there any movie in which James Spader doesn't play a glassy-eyed lech? Oh, right, Stargate. The movie I found him most attractive in, and that had to do more with my love for Egyptology and guys that resemble Encyclopedia Brown.

I can't believe he won the Emmy for Boston Legal. He fucking BEAT GANDOLFINI WTFFF. Was he the one who said "I don't know who votes for these things" because that was sort of charming. Boston Legal, jesus christ. Considering that show is even still on the air, I think it should get a new title:

I guess I disliked Less Than Zero because it wasn't at all representative of my experience as a teenager in Los Angeles. I read Less Than Zero and Play It As It Lays and The Day Of The Locust and they're all fine, but I didn't relate personally. None of them pinged with me the way good literature should.

They're all about ennui, which is hard to write about anyway. My experience in the suburbs of L.A. was more like American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused than Thirteen. You can feel displaced anywhere. People still confuse Hollywood with Los Angeles and Los Angeles with Disneyland.

My Top Twenty L.A. Movies

The Long Goodbye
Boogie Nights
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
The Big Lebowski
Valley Girl
Pulp Fiction
Singin' In The Rain
Double Indemnity
Ed Wood
Sunset Boulevard
Barton Fink
Repo Man
Menace II Society
The Player
L.A. Confidential
Slums Of Beverly Hills

"Well, what I really want is to suck his cock."

The problem with movies like Less Than Zero that glamorize drug use and promiscuous sex is that nobody likes the third act of those movies, the redemption act. It's always all about the first two, the escalation and the spiraling out of control.

The only movie with this arc (the "Behind The Music" arc) and a great third act is Boogie Nights and that movie defies most classifications. Alex thought it was weird that P.T.A. wanted to make a movie about oil from a Sinclair Lewis book but duh it's brilliant. Los Angeles was an oil town and it's a trope of historical Westerns, like the Gold Rush. I could certainly stand to see more Gold Rush movies.

The glamorous, the flossayyy flossayyy

And back to Less Than Zero: I know they mutilated the book and it's much more gray about it blah blah blah but guess what, jaded is a terrible cinematic emotion. French New Wave to the contrary, blasé is generally boring and doesn't read. It's indemonstrable and therefore can be acted well by people like Ryan Phillipe.

I'm just unbelievably sick of decadent super-rich people. In fiction, in film, in life, anywhere they exist. I am tired of their monopoly on culture and life. I'd rather read, hear, and see art about anything else. Except for like, boring married people having unfulfilling sex and intimacy issues. Srsly WTF.

Indiellectualism at Qwesi. Wow do they ever have my number on file with this piece.

Fan sites for Indiellectual poster flower child Zooey Deschanel. She dated Corky Romano?

A scholarly essay on Shampoo called "The Edge Of Melancholy," with info on the script's (by Warren Beatty and Robert Towne) roots in bawdy Restoration comedy The Country Wife.

Molly Lambert is the senior editor of This Recording.


"Set the Fire to the Third Bar" - Snow Patrol ft. Martha Wainwright (mp3)

"In the Year 2525" - Visage (mp3)

"Black Rosary" - Flowers Forever (mp3)

"By Torpoedo or Crohn's" - Why? (mp3)

"Adorable Doorsteps" - Capgun Coup (mp3)

"Snakes and Martyrs" - TV on the Radio (mp3)


Harris Feinsod valiantly tries to describe Javier Bardem’s haircut in No Country For Old Men.

Brenda Cromb on Tony Leung’s sex hair in Lust, Caution.

Ben Mercer on Tom Cruise’s weird bangs comb-over in Lions For Lambs.

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Reader Comments (5)


March 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterchrista t

any discussion of filmed adaptations of Bret Easton Ellis novels begins and ends with The Rules Of Attraction. it may be the most singularly disquieting movie made this decade, which seems completely appropriate given the source. also best filmed use of a Harry Nilsson song ever (The Point excluded, obv.)

that movie is also awesome due to how much film critics hated it. I took a class with Leonard Maltin where he told a story about upbraiding his daughter for not demanding her money back when she went to go see it.

March 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJames

Molly, you should consider writing more posts like this that don't have the word "gynarchist" in them - they're great!

March 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterD'Aziz

Omaha's latest Indie-darlings make the playlist!

March 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterelisabeth

[...] McCarthy isn’t an icily repressed gay (as in Less Than Zero). He is that other trope, the celibate writer suffering for their art. We know he’s a writer [...]

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