“Oh, it’s Christmas.”
When we first meet Clay, Blair, and Julian, they are the best of friends at high school graduation. However, six months later, Blair asks Clay to come home from college because their friend is out of control and in desperate need of help.
The 1987 film “Less Than Zero” offers a glimpse into the extremes of the ‘80s – and how drug addiction forever changed the friendships of three Beverly Hills kids.
’Twas “Less Than Zero”
Clay (Andrew McCarthy) has just reluctantly returned home not too long after finding Blair (Jami Gertz), now his ex-girlfriend, in bed with Julian (Robert Downey Jr.), his best friend. At a party, Clay runs into Blair and we learn Julian’s in a lot of trouble.
Long story short: Julian’s plan to become a big time record producer fell apart, his father (Nicholas Pryor) kicked him out the house, he’s wasted all the time, and he owes a lot of money to a former classmate named Rip, who is also Julian’s dealer. What better excuse to get the band back together and party, yeah?
The next day, Clay finds Julian asleep on a park bench, and he is combative when Clay asks too many questions. So he visits Blair, who has her own cocaine habit, but insists she can quit whenever she wants. Clay tells her he’s leaving right after the holidays.
That night at another party, the sparks fly again for Clay and Blair and they get back together, which includes an interesting scene where the pair makes out in a parked car in the middle of a street as motorcycles drive around them. The next morning, Clay and Blair are in bed when a man named Bill (who works for Rip) comes looking for Julian.
Things take a really dark for Julian here, as he does a favor for Rip to help pay off part of his debt. We don’t learn until later that Rip is pimping out Julian to men who are looking for a good time.
After one such favor, Julian vanishes, leading to Clay and Blair desperately driving around hoping to find him. Eventually they do, passed on the stairs at her place.
The next morning, which just happens to be Christmas, a detoxed Julian finds his father and pleads for help. His father agrees as long as he can stay clean for one week. Sadly, it’s only a matter of hours.
Julian goes to a party in Palm Springs and tells Rip that he’s quitting, but Rip has none of it and makes it clear that Julian is working for him tonight. A short time later, Clay finds out about the party and he and Blair drive straight there to rescue Julian.
Before they can all escape, Rip, Bill, Clay, and Blair all end up in a brawl. Ultimately, Clay prevails, and they all hit the road.
Later, at a gas station, Julian collapses and as Clay and Blair help him get back into the car, Julian promises to make it up to them and “I’m going to deserve your friendship.” Sadly, he never gets the chance as he passes out, never to wake up again.
After the funeral, Blair agrees to go away with Clay. We fade out on a picture of Clay, Blair, and Julian from graduation.
Our Review of “Less Than Zero”
This is another one of those movies we consider Christmas-ish because it only happens to take place during the holidays. If you’re looking for a homey, handmade ornaments type of Christmas, you won’t find it here.
It feels very much like an ‘80s movie, that’s for sure. But it’s anything but Merry. As Clay tells Blair, “You don’t look happy.” Her reply? “But do I look good?”
The superficiality of the Christmas season is on full display here.
👍 The Nice List 🏍️
🌴 A Little Christmas Cheer 🚘
The outdoor holiday decorations and lighting at the first party of the film looked nice and Christmasy. Though it also reminded you of how fake everything is – fake snow, fake white and pink Christmas trees, fake icicles, and fake ice skating.
As Clay, Blair, and Julian are driving in the red sports car, we also get a somewhat amusing rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” by Julian, whose feet are up in the air. He then fully stands up to belt out “Silent Night,” but things almost go horribly wrong as Julian almost falls out of the moving car.
🍾 Robert Downey Jr. 🤢
Downey, in particular, was the standout as a drug addict. He is so convincing that watching the decline of this character is almost too hard to watch.
All of the acting from the trio was solid.
🎵 The Music 🎵
While not heavy on Christmas music (save for Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis”), the “Less Than Zero” soundtrack is pretty amazing and very ‘80s. It features Aerosmith, Poison, the Bangles, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and even Slayer.
The final featured song, “Life Fades Away” by Roy Orbison, felt like an appropriate coda for the film.
😆 You’ll Laugh… 😆
At the scene involving Julian and Clay’s younger sister. Jenny, the “heartless preteen hussy.” The dialogue is super cute here, as Julian pretends the young girl is a lover who has “spurned him.”
“Ah, Jenny, I’ve been sitting by the phone, but it didn’t ring. You don’t call, and you don’t write. We just don’t communicate, you know? It pains me deeply to accuse, but I suspect you’re freezing me out. … Girls learn this really early. They break guys’ hearts in pieces.”
😢 You’ll Cry… 😢
When Julian’s time comes.
😴 The Naughty List 😞
“Less Than Zero” is badly harmed by it’s pacing and a storytelling (we just watch a lot of stuff happen). You may find yourself nodding off.
It felt realistic, almost like we were watching a docudrama. The teenagers are running around like everything that is happening is the most important thing in the world. But that doesn’t make it the most compelling watch.
2 Unanswered Questions
Will Blair stay clean?
Will Clay and Blair make it? Will they stay together?
👎 The WORST List 👎
🍾 Bottles at Graduation? 🍾
It was odd, during the opening graduation scene, seeing all these 18-year-olds running around – in front of their parents – with open bottles of alcohol.
Must be a California in the ’80s thing?
🤮 You’ll Cringe… 🤮
At Julian’s detoxing scene – featuring copious amounts of vomiting and sweating – is pretty rough to watch.
Downey’s acting is too good.
Less Than Zero
Um, well, this was not a very merry Christmas movie. What are the chances that we’ll be watching this movie every Christmas? Well, let’s say the odds of that happening are less than zero.