- Movie Rating -

Light of Day (1987)

| February 6, 1987

I’ve heard the title song blasting out of my car stereo for weeks.  It’s your joe-average rock song, not longed for a legacy I suspect although it is sung by Joan Jett whose voice has a certain raw power.  Over and over it is played and has been a Top 40 hit, but based on what I hear, I don’t think it will have any longevity.  I also suspected that since it was frontloading the advanced publicity for the movie that bears its name, that the song came first and the movie second.  The script, well, it was probably mucking around somewhere at the bottom of the priority list.

I was dead wrong, and I am happy to report that.  Light of Day is a very good movie, a family drama that opens with a scene that didn’t calm my cynicism but did give me hope.  It’s a scene we’ve seen before; a conflict at the dinner table between mother and daughter.  Patti (Joan Jett) has a son out of wedlock from a father who she either cannot or will not name.  She and her mother Jeanette (Gena Rowlands) get into an argument that ends with Patti storming out while brother Joe (Michael J. Fox) chases after her to make peace. 

What worked in this scene was the fact that I never felt the grinding gears of a TV movie.  The scene felt real, much like Tony Manero in that early scene in Saturday Night Fever when an argument over his hair turned into a slapping match.  What we sense with Patti and her mother is that they are diametrically opposed people – they’re family but they don’t necessary like that cosmic arrangement.

The insight into this situation comes from Paul Schrader who knows his way around working class people with devastated lives.  He wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and he wrote and directed the underappreciated Blue Collar.  Here he establishes a family dynamic that isn’t unfamiliar but works beautifully.  The father (Jason Miller) and the mother have been able to maintain a family life based on their middle-class values.  Their kids spend their evenings playing rock and roll gigs that maybe young Joe knows can’t last forever – he spends his days working in a factory.  Patti refuses to believe that it can’t last forever and hold on to her dreams of stardom. 

For Patti, music is the breath of life, but it is not necessarily a great life for her son.  This is the bruising issue that falls between Patti and Joe as she is fit to play her gigs while leaving the kid behind motel rooms.  Mom and Dad don’t approve either, but we sense something in Patti that drive her to the stage.  We can’t approve of what she’s doing but we understand why she hold fast to the need to do it.

I found myself entranced by these people because none are written at the obvious level, not even the film’s biggest star Michael J. Fox who might stick out like a sore thumb in this movie, but somehow finds a way to fall into it organically.  I remembered these characters when the movie was over, even the father who quietly remains in the middle of the mother/daughter conflict as a figure weakened by years of their exposure to it.

I guess maybe because the advanced publicity plays Light of Day as a film with a lot of rock music, I guess I expected one of those road pictures with backstage drama punctuated by a song.  Yeah, it’s here but there’s so much more to this material.  There are characters.  There are real lives being lived.  There’s the desire to want to do something despite the real-world circumstances.  I was reminded a bit of Saturday Night Fever in that regard, though by comparison this movie is a little more conventional.  But it’s also very human and very dramatic in the means of real life.  I appreciated it and I was surprised by it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Drama