Where the Day Takes You (1992)
Where the Day Takes You (1992)
Director: Marc Rocco
Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Robert Knepper, Laura San Giacomo
Synopsis: A group of teenage runaways struggle to survive on the streets of Los Angeles.
‘Lights out, boy,’ murmurs unscrupulous drug dealer, Ted (Kyle Maclachlan) after administering a shot of heroin to aid a speed freak’s descent to the next level of addiction. He’s one of dozens of characters in Marc Rocco’s sanitised account of life on the streets of Hollywood, and the way that his clean-cut good looks and chiselled body belie the rottenness at his core is a dark reversal of the goodness we might find in those grimy, unwashed unfortunates who haunt our city streets if we cared to look. Of course, we might also find a dangerously unstable psychopath incapable of finding a place in society, but Rocco’s movie would rather we didn’t dwell on that possibility. Apart from Ted and one other minor character, everyone in Where the Day Takes You is an essentially decent character, even if their actions sometimes suggest otherwise. They litter the streets of Hollywood, politely hustling passers-by for small change, or holding desultory conversations of escape beneath oversized images of long-ago movie stars, and there’s something disheartening about the inevitability of their fate.
At 20 (or maybe 21 – he isn’t sure), King (Dermot Mulroney – Young Guns, About Schmidt) is something of a father figure to the small group of friends whom, after years on the street, he considers to be his family. Returning from a short spell in prison for assault (“he got three stitches and I got three months,”), he finds that his family is already beginning to unravel under the informal guardianship of the ineffectual Crasher (James Le Gros – Enemy of the State). Little J (Balthazar Getty), a diminutive hothead whose impulsiveness repeatedly lands him in hot water, is experimenting with guns, while Greg’s ( Sean Astin – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 50 First Dates) downward spiral into hardcore drug addiction is gaining apparently unstoppable momentum. New to the group is Heather (Lara Flynn Boyle), a refugee from familial molestation in Chicago, with whom King forms an immediate attachment.
While it might be that a movie like Where the Day Takes You has a genuine desire to deliver a warts-and-all expose of its subject matter, commercial propriety usually prevents it from following through on its declared intent. The more realistic it is, the fewer people will want to sit through it. They have problems of their own, why would they want to wallow in the problems of others? The realism is diluted to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience, and it ends up addressing its issues with all the fearlessness of a kid poking an animal with a stick to see if its dead. The juvenile vagrants in Where the Day Takes You might kid each other about how bad they smell, but they mostly look like just what they are: toned actors with perfect teeth who’ve been sprayed with massage oil to achieve that slightly soiled look.
This distance from reality is magnified by the fact that many members of the youthful ensemble cast have gone on to enjoy really… well… mediocre TV/movie careers, which means we spend more time star-spotting than reflecting on the plight of the characters. Of course, that’s not the fault of the film, but you are jolted out of the story every time someone from Desperate Housewives or Prison Break wanders into frame – even movie megastar Will Smith (Six Degrees of Separation, Bad Boys) pops in and out for his (impressive) big screen debut as a paraplegic street urchin on the fringes of King’s little family.
Where the Day Takes You isn’t a bad movie – it’s just soft in too many places. In fact, Rocco might have been better off building his story around Greg’s rapid decline into drug addiction which is by far the strongest and most haunting plot strand. The final, impassive shot of Sean Astin is so powerful that it will linger in the mind long after the multitude of other pretty characters have faded from memory.
(Reviewed 17th February 2016)
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