I know you've all been waiting with rapt anticipation for my assessment, and I'm here to let you know that you can breathe a collective sigh of relief because the 1988 River Phoenix movie Running on Empty TOTALLY HOLDS UP!!!
|Super glad to be swiping left on this one!|
Image by John Hain from Pixabay
The politics of the movie are strikingly modern, without a whiff of misogyny, no homophobic "jokes" played for awkward laughs, no troubling stereotypes at all. It is not a terribly racially diverse movie, but if that's the worst thing you can say about something made 33 years ago, I think you're doing okay.
In fact, even the fashion holds up! First, check out Christine Lahti absolutely rocking this jumpsuit that I would 100% wear today.
The white t-shirt, relaxed-fit jeans look, which both Lahti and Plimpton are costumed in, is also incredible, and if I ever wear hard pants again, I'm stealing this style.
|Could be worth ditching the sweat pants for|
I would totally wear this dress that Plimpton has on when she attends her dad's stuffy chamber music concert in their living room.
|Curtain matching dress (not a euphemism)|
Very fine looks ladies, and congrats to costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone for both nailing the look of the late 80s, and also designing some fabulous costumes that are still relevant.
To the movie: Annie and Arthur Pope and their two kids have been on the run from the FBI for 15 years after the parents took part in a protest bombing that went wrong and paralyzed a janitor. They have to pick up and move town when the merest hint of a G-Man is in the air. Their oldest son Danny (Phoenix) is a talented pianist, and the movie shows how his options grow limited the longer he stays with his family on the run, but staying together is the only way they've survived so far. So, not an easy or light watch, but damn it's a good movie!
This movie marked my introduction to River Phoenix. I likely would have watched it in 1989 or 1990. I remember the VHS copy and being at a friend's house, which means I would have been 11 or 12 at the time. It's not a typical teen-movie at all (my husband Sam commented upon this, his first watch, that he would have been bored as toast watching it at 12 years old), and I like to think that it was more than just Phoenix's non-threatening boy good looks that made it a hit for me (although, that didn't hurt). It's not just me who thinks this was a stand-out performance; Phoenix was nominated for an academy award for this film (he lost to Kevin Kline for A Fish Called Wanda).
|Running on Empty was the only time Phoenix was nominated for an Oscar|
Photo credit: Mike Beuselinck via Flickr
I think the reason Phoenix is so strong in this movie, and why a movie like A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon falls apart for me, is that here he's pure vulnerability. Looking forward (which we'll do a little more near the end) to the roles that I've enjoyed him in the most, they're all ones that showcase his vulnerability as a performer, let him settle into that space and explore it. So good job director Sidney Lumet (I'm sure he reads this blog religiously)!
This movie also gave me such a gift in the casting of Martha Plimpton. First of all, she's a wonder on screen (as we saw during her brief appearance in The Mosquito Coast). She also gave (and gives) me hope. Because she's absolutely gorgeous, but she's not what I would call pretty. Her character has a sharp wit and speaks her mind. Judd Hirsch's character describes her lovingly as being "full of beans." She's real and a bit dark, she's funny and loving, she doesn't look like she just stepped off a fashion runway, but you want to look at her all day. In the 1980s, women and girls were allowed, briefly, to be full people like this. And they were celebrated for it! Plimpton was an on-screen love interest for both River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, making her highly aspirational for young Amy. In fact, she even dated Phoenix in real life. Staring in the 1990s, a trend began where women started to need to look more and more polished, with fewer edges or sharp lines, and definitions of beauty began to get very constricted, which was hard to grow up with. Martha Plimpton, for a brief moment before all that, was everything, and I'm so glad.
|Walking the red carpet at the Oscars|
Photo credit: Alan Light via Flickr
Possums, we're heading into what I believe is the Golden Age of River Phoenix movies, which began here with Running on Empty. Next up is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and we're also going to watch I Love You To Death, Dogfight, and Sneakers, all of which I have seen and loved, and also My Own Private Idaho which I watched for the first time waaaaaaaaaaay too young, and didn't understand, but I'm going to do some research going into that one, and I hope to be in a better position to appreciate it.
|Me, hard at work, getting ready to understand Gus Van Sant|
Photo credit: via Pixnio
So rest up, my lovelies, 'cause we've got a lot of movie watching to do!