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Film / Bright Lights, Big City

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Note the DVD cover's rather gratuitous reference to that Kansas trope.

"There's a certain shabby nobility in failing all by myself."
Jamie Conway

Bright Lights, Big City is a 1988 drama film directed by James Bridges and starring Michael J. Fox. It was adapted from the eponymous novel by Jay McInerney, who also wrote the film's screenplay.

Jamie Conway is a man in free fall. Once upon a time he arrived in New York with dreams of literary success, but he has found himself stuck in an unrewarding job as a fact-checker for a literary magazine, his wife has left him to embrace a career as an international model, his mother has died, and his twin cocaine and alcohol habits are wrecking his life. The narrative follows him in the course of a week or so, as he careens towards rock bottom.

The film, like the novel, is a nonjudgemental but candid depiction of the drug-fueled lifestyle of 1980s New York yuppies.

This film contains examples of:

  • A Threesome Is Hot: Referenced as Jamie follows two girls he was chatting up into the club's restrooms, expecting to find them doing coke. In fact they're making out with each other, and playfully ask him "Wanna join in?"
  • The Alcoholic: Alex Hardy, an older co-worker of Jamie's, goes through life in a permanent drunken stupor.
  • Big Applesauce
  • Contemplative Boss: Jamie's boss at the magazine he works for strikes the pose before lecturing him about a sloppy job he did.
  • Deadly Nosebleed: When Jamie has a cocaine-induced meltdown, he starts bleeding from the nose. Justified in that his drug habit had probably been wreaking havoc on his sinuses. The incident finally convinces him that he needs help.
  • Functional Addict: Jamie's friend Tad seems to sustain himself exclusively on booze and coke, yet unlike Jamie, doesn't seem adversely affected by chronic substance abuse.
  • Named by the Adaptation: You are never named in the original novel, so in the movie you have the name of Jamie Conway. (The book is written in the second person and in present tense.)
  • Titled After the Song: The classic blues tune by Jimmy Reed.
  • Train Escape: Jamie hops on a departing subway train to escape from his estranged brother.
  • Two Decades Behind: In the four years between 1984, when the book was published, to 1988 when the film came out, AIDS and the realization of just how addictive cocaine truly is had made the club-hopping lifestyle portrayed so casually in the book seem reckless.