Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The release of Sundance winner Fruitvale Station, set over a 24-hour period, has us remembering other day-in-the-life dramas.
Miracle Mile (1988)
The beginning of love and the end of the world come simultaneously for Anthony Edwards’ trombone player in Miracle Mile, writer/director Steve De Jarnatt’s underrated drama about an all-night odyssey on the eve of the apocalypse. In Los Angeles, Edwards meets Mare Winningham’s coffee shop waitress at a natural history museum where videos and dioramas teach about the Big Bang, the La Brea Tar Pits, and evolution—telling topics given the subsequent proceedings, in which the two immediately fall head over heels for each other and share a day developing a relationship that they hope will continue later that night once Winningham gets off work. Alas, a power outage in Edwards’ hotel causes him to oversleep and miss their date, and when he finally arrives for their coffee shop rendezvous, he finds nothing but a collection of stragglers—and a ringing payphone. Answering the call, Edwards hears a man—claiming to be in a missile silo, and trying to reach his father—relay horrifying news: Nuclear war has begun, and the bombs should be reaching the city in just over an hour.
Thus begins a nocturnal adventure, told in more-or-less real time, in which Edwards endeavors to find Winningham and shuttle her to a skyscraper helipad where a chopper will hopefully then take them to an airport and, from there, safety from fatal nuke fallout. Edwards’ trip involves leaping out the back of a speeding truck, teaming up with a panicked driver (Mykelti Williamson), and helping reunite Winningham’s estranged grandparents, all as he navigates a metropolis increasingly wracked with chaotic panic. Like After Hours, De Jarnatt’s film (aided by an electric Tangerine Dream score) is enveloped by an atmosphere of slumbering unreality, and until the finale, it’s never quite clear if Edwards’ “Chicken Little” warnings—and, in fact, all of his doomsday experiences—are the stuff of reality or imagination. In the end, such distinctions don’t matter. Drenched in Cold War paranoia and lush romanticism, Edwards’ saga is one of love’s sacrifice and salvation wrought with entrancing dreaminess.
Availability: DVD (but no Blu-ray), streaming on Amazon, and disc delivery from Netflix.