A Night In The Life Of Jimmy Reardon is not a great movie. In fact, it’s fairly bad. It’s a crummy film that thinks too much of itself, with obvious pretensions to be something much more (it starts with a quote from Aldous Huxley which does nothing much for what follows). It’s a low-rent coming of age flick notable only for being the first film River Phoenix carried as a lead star, and that it features Matthew Perry (or Matthew L Perry as he is credited here) in his first film role.
Why is it so bad? Well the chief crime it commits is of being incredibly dull. It centres on a such a dislikeable character, Jimmy Reardon (Phoenix) that it’s pretty difficult to care about anything that happens to him. He’s not charmingly dislikeable, or even fascinatingly dislikeable, there’s nothing for the audience to latch on to. He’s just good looking. And he knows it, bedding girls whenever he wants and… well that’s kind of it.
The film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel called Aren’t You Even Gonna Kiss Me Goodbye? by the screenwriter and director William Richert. A directors cut does exist of the film which is apparently much improved and, unusually, goes by that original name. It was a book he wrote when he was 19 and by all accounts is a somewhat macho tale of his adventures with women, combined with a proper coming of age story. Some of the things which happen to Jimmy Reardon apparently happened to a young William Richert, which he then fictionalised. Understandably, turning something which is based on your life into a movie is something you would care about. But it seems the behind-the-scenes wrangling between this labour of love by the director and the studio sounds like it would make a far more entertaining picture than the one which was released after studio intervention. It was made in 1986 but not released until 1988 when 20th Century Fox had replaced the Elmer Bernstein soundtrack and re-cut the film as a sex comedy.
Consequently River Phoenix was not at all happy with the film, and was later quoted saying “Jimmy Reardon was one big mistake.”
So what of the story? Well it takes place in a well-to-do suburb of Chicago in 1962. Phoenix plays Reardon, a recent High School graduate and probably the least convincing Beat Poet ever committed to celluloid. His Dad wants him to go to McKinley college business school, his alma mater. Reardon wants to, well, not do that. He hatches a half-arsed plan to go to Hawaii. And seductions aside, that’s pretty much it. 90 minutes of posturing and preening with a self-obsessed narration which clearly wants to be reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye, but which is just pitiably half-baked. There’s nothing worse than someone trying to be deep when they are as shallow as a kid’s paddling pool. It does nothing to endear the audience to the character and the brief turnaround in his character, foreshadowed in the opening moments of the film, happens far too late.
A scene between an older lady played by Marji Banks and River Phoenix’s Jimmy Reardon, in which she asks his age and upon discovering it is 17 repeats it astounded and almost uncomprehendingly, is a lone oasis of interest. We see the concept of adulthood and lost ambition being contrasted with the arrogance of youth. A better, deeper, touching film lives in that short scene. And is then lost.
Oh, and I mentioned it’s meant to be a comedy? Well Johnny Galecki from The Big Bang Theory does make a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance as Reardon’s kid brother, and Matthew Perry notwithstanding, there is very little to find funny here.
Out on DVD on the 21st March A Night In The Life Of Jimmy Reardon is something for River Phoenix completists only.