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For, Friday, May 3, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael J. Fox, riding high on the uber-hit ‘Back to the Future’ and his popular sitcom ‘Family Ties, tried a couple of serious roles to break out of what he saw as a comedy rut — ‘Light of Day’ in 1987 and ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ the very next year, both with less-than-stellar results. (He fared better in 1989 with ‘Casualties of War,’ then was on top again with the two ‘Back to the Future’ sequels.) Now, recognizing the film as a good one — or perhaps just hoping to cash in on Fox’s name — the independent label MVD Rewind Collection has given ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ a Blu-ray upgrade. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on April 3, 1988.

Michael J. Fox gives the performance of his young life in "Bright Lights, Big City," playing an aspiring writer who has let personal tragedy drive him into a downward spiral of alcoholism and cocaine addiction.

It's a powerhouse role that Fox more than lives up to, alternating between depressive down periods and drug-induced highs, trying to reassess his flagging sense of values in between. He also has a lengthy monologue late in the film that is very moving. If there have been any doubts that Fox is a talented actor of great range, "Bright Lights, Big City" should put them to rest once and for all.

The story has Fox unhappy in his job as a fact-researcher for a major New York magazine. He had hoped the job would be the ground floor for his writing career, but the only short story he's completed has been set aside by the alcoholic fiction editor (Jason Robards), himself a failed writer now basking in the glories of famed authors he claims to have known.


          Michael J. Fox, 'Bright Lights, Big City

Fox's boss (Frances Sternhagen) seems determined to find a reason to fire him but a colleague (Swoosie Kurtz) helps him out.

Fox probably wouldn't have such a hard time at work if he stayed home at night but urged by a friend (Kiefer Sutherland) to explore Manhattan's night life he spends each evening — and on into the early morning — drinking heavily, snorting coke and looking in vain for love.

In flashbacks we learn about his relationships with his wife (Phoebe Cates), now a famous model who is more interested in her career than in her husband, and his mother (Dianne Wiest), who died of cancer a year before.

This all sounds like heavy stuff, and it is, but Fox was a very smart choice for this role and brings with him a sense of charm that makes the character automatically sympathetic.

As it is, we feel for his harrowing situation right off because we care about him, and as the film progresses we are rooting for him to overcome his problems and get his life back in shape.


"Bright Lights, Big City" is loaded with wonderful character actors, many of whom lend a depth that helps the film enormously — Wiest, Robards, Kurtz and Sternhagen in particular.

But there is no question that this is Fox's film, and the range of emotion he shows, the edginess that he brings to the role will doubtless surprise those who think of him strictly as Alex P. Keaton or Marty McFly.

The film as a whole does occasionally trip over movie clichés and some of the characters, like Fox's brother (Charlie Schlatter), are just too broadly drawn.

But for the most part, screenwriter Jay McInerney (adapting his own novel) and director James Bridges ("The Paper Chase," "Urban Cowboy") have successfully made an anti-drug film without letting it sink into complete hopelessness.

“Bright Lights, Big City” is rated R for profanity, violence and drugs.