Like the book it is named after and based on, Permanent Midnight is a chronicle of downfall. Jerry Stahl, the story goes, showed promise when doing shifts as a porn writer for Hustler and Penthouse, and his promise landed him in the exact center of television's hottest shows of the 1980s. Alas, Stahl also brought with him a gargantuan appetite for drugs, most damagingly heroin. The film begins with Stahl, played by Ben Stiller, working in a fast-food chain on his way back to society from the drug-addled skids and recovery. He's lured away from work, where in a hotel room with Maria Bello (as Kitty) he begins detailing his fall from TV's top (where he wrote for shows like Alf and Moonlighting, among others). Director David Veloz does great work in leading viewers through the episodes in addiction and excess, making the action seem naturally odd. There are priceless shots of Stahl and his coke-smoking buddy on an upper floor of a high-rise smoking and leaping into the windows--which don't break, of course. Stiller does a classy job of staying monochromatically zoomed in on scoring and shooting dope. He's sweaty and freaked out at the right times and grimy and desperate, too. The movie's a sad one, with Stahl's journey taking him through an arranged marriage (which benefited him enormously) to the couple's having a baby to getting busted on a rare occasion alone with the infant. It's a visceral script, replete with lots of intravenous drug use and Stahl/Stiller creating a recurring motif out of shooting the bloody drawback from the syringe onto the ceiling, making a mad little scribble. --Andrew Bartlett
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