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6/10
Great murder mystery film, except for the murder mystery
budikavlan16 November 2002
It's a shame the filmmakers decided to make this a murder mystery, because the "mystery" is the only bad part of the film. Fonda and Bridges are both terrific, as usual, and the story of their meeting and falling in love along with the moral rebirth that love sparked in both would have made a fantastic movie. Jeff Bridges is the USA's stealth great actor: he quietly nails every role without an ounce of flash. His chemistry with Jane Fonda (hell, he has chemistry with every actress he's ever costarred with) is the best reason to watch this. Unfortunately, the heart of the plot is a lackluster murder/conspiracy story which undermines the rest. It takes "The Morning After" from a "must see" to a "see if there's nothing better."
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10/10
Jane Fonda wakes up in the 1980's version of "Lost Weekend"
psmoviemaven16 January 2002
Jane Fonda, Raul Julia, and Jeff Bridges are the main charactors in this suspense thriller. Jane is excellent as never-quite-made-it / has-been actress with a longterm drinking problem. Jane's falling star crashes right into Jeff Bridges who is always good as a laidback but tragically flawed loner. Lucky for Jane, Mr Bridges likes to "fix things other people have discarded". Raul just shines as only he can. Too bad we lost him early. Great mystery, great suspense, great acting. Another excellent video in my personal collection for rainy days. This movie has all the elements to hold up for an encore performance.
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8/10
Jane plays a version of Gail Russell
jjnxn-12 May 2013
Jane Fonda gives an incredibly nuanced performance as a spiraling down drunkard, she researched the tragic 40's star Gail Russell who drank herself to death at 36 to fully understand her characters plight of a once promising actress reduced to blackouts and infamy. Jeff Bridges is almost as strong as a stranger trying to help her out of a situation she can't even remember. The rest of the cast gives good support starting with Raul Julia on down to a pre-stardom Kathy Bates in a tiny role, the problem is that the script that all this superior work is working with is ill conceived and not terribly well directed by the usually excellent Lumet.
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Fonda looks good as a has been
Movie_Man 5006 September 2002
While Jane's last Oscar nominated performance (before she retired from films) has its moments, the film falls apart after she takes off her blonde wig. I thought she looked like a knockout with it on. Some really well photographed scenery pops up near the first half and there's a long extended sequence that has her clean up the dead man's apartment, which is filled with many sly touches; alas the beginning is ten times better and more developed than the weak conclusion. Jeff Bridges adds a nice touch to the story but was it really wise for the Fonda character to place all her trust in a total stranger? Kathy Bates has a cameo as a neighbor before she hit the big time scaring everyone in Misery. She's on the screen maybe 10 seconds to a minute, tops. Overall, the parts, as other reviewers have stated, are juicier than the whole.
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7/10
Two Great Performances Buried in Gaping Plot Discrepancies
jzappa17 November 2010
The Morning After opens with an extraordinarily effective scene prototypical of director Sidney Lumet's pared-down building of tension. As Jane Fonda crawls out of bed, we sense her hangover, one of those inordinately miserable mornings when nothing about you is sufficiently functional, and we also sense how accustomed she's become to these mornings as she is not only passably functional but also recognizes herself in the mirror and indeed spills some gin into a glass, speculating about the guy in her bed. Who is he? She doesn't comprehend the true gravity of her predicament until she turns him onto his back. She sees no cop is going to buy her story, so she attempts to remove all the evidence of her stopover. And then she rambles back out, into the intense Los Angeles light. And in a shot from high overhead, she seems like a lab rat, ensnared in some sort of a experiment. It's so well directed that we almost forget how preposterous it is to think this frame-up would ever work. This beginning promises an exceptional thriller. Alas, The Morning After never matches its initial potential, not as a thriller, at least. The narrative has some gaping disparities in it, and thrillers need to be impermeable. This one chalks various elements up to pure coincidence, the ultimate motives are flimsy at best and the fact that the body keeps reappearing like a cartoon or a take-off on The Trouble with Harry brings the movie too close to qualifying as '80s schlock for one to become seriously absorbed in the plot. But The Morning After merits a look anyhow, owing to the characters that it cultivates, and the performances of Fonda and Jeff Bridges in the two leads. She plays an alcoholic actress long past her heyday. He plays an ex-cop who happens to be fixing his car right where she topples into his back seat and implores him to get her away from there, quick. Bridges stays in a petty, manufactured shed, where he repairs appliances. This is all Fonda needs. She's a veteran of the live-fast-die-young subscription, her friends all bartenders and drag queens, her separated husband Raul Julia the most upmarket hairdresser in Beverly Hills. Nevertheless Bridges is reliable and sound, and she could do with a friend. Naturally it's axiomatic that they fall in love. The plot of The Morning After is not nearly as well captured or interesting as the day-by-day grinds of these characters. Actually, I can picture a movie that would omit the murder and just trail the genuine human development between Fonda and Bridges. The thriller filler isn't needed, although given that they used it, couldn't they have made it credible? The entire murder plot gets such slapdash treatment that perhaps I oughtn't have been startled by the big scene in which the killer's exposed. I've seen innumerable revelations in innumerable thrillers, but seldom one as transparent as this one, where the surprises are just announced in an improbable monologue. Indeed, the fact that nearly every opinion I've heard or read of this film seems unanimous in terms of James Hicks' script, including mine, even down to the 'It starts off well but then it gets really forced and jerry-built' gist, it seems pretty clear-cut what makes the film not quite work, though it'd be a misstep to write this movie off simply because the story is so rickety. It's worth making an allowance for due to the performances. Fonda and Bridges are superb in the film, and their rapport, founded on skeletons in the cupboard, bitterness and ulterior motives, gets especially remarkable. They create tangible unspoken feelings together, and they have some dialogue that feels more alive than most starry-eyed chatter in the movies. Before the schmaltzy final scene, not even close to prototypical of Lumet, there's a single shot in which all Bridges and Fonda do is face each other, and we know, and fee, that they want to have sex with each other. It's just energy, and it works wonders. I also admire how Lumet reinforces every color. Living in Los Angeles is part of the debilitating influence on the character played by Jane Fonda. All color is exaggerated: red redder, blue filters, orange hazes. He creates an L.A. comprised of vast flat surfaces of pastels and aggressively sunlit exposed areas. He traps the inebriated Fonda on this landscape like a helplessly insignificant insect sought for squashing by unknown feet, and the imagery makes the whole first hour of the movie much more ominous than it merits. Too bad they couldn't have take steps with the script.
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8/10
Lumet in California, bravo Bartkowiak
manuel-pestalozzi27 November 2008
This movie was much better than I had reason to expect after reading the comments on IMDb. Its biggest flaw must be the way The Morning After is marketed. It is not really a taut whodunit thriller but rather a study of a particular place in a particular era with particular characters – a dark comedy and a love drama at the same time. The second biggest flaw is the grating, almost ever present musical score. But for the rest this movie is nearly perfect.

I should call The Morning After an expose of Southern California in the mid 1980s. The sets and the photography (a lot frontal or near frontal wide angle shots of curbside sceneries) are very accomplished – Schrader's American Gigolo came to mind. The sun is always shining, the air seems to be absolutely pure, even places that should be dirty (back yards, industrial sites etc.) are painted in gaudy colors and squeaky clean. But the minds of the principal protagonists are desperately foggy and muddled. California appears to be a big, decaying fake idyll. People go there to die, I once read in a novel by Nathanael West (The Day of the Locust – also made into a great, underrated California movie, by the way). And that more or less sums up the feel of it.

The cast is kept wonderfully small. Jane Fonda is brilliant and she would have deserved the Oscar for this part. For several long scenes she acts alone in front of the camera and she really conveys the desperation and the natural charm of the character (and she's really attractive, too, despite the boozing). Jeff Bridges is a reliable support here. Also very good is Raul Julia as Fonda's somehow estranged husband. He plays a high end hairdresser with a snazzy salon and at times displays an unexpected but highly welcome gentlemanly charm.

Until now I always thought of Sidney Lumet as an American East Coast director. It is the only one of his movies I know that is set in California. He seems to have his own way of appreciating that place. There is a director's comment on the DVD I purchased and I am looking forward to listening to that.
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7/10
An Enjoyable Reworking Of "The Blue Gardenia" (1953)
seymourblack-12 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
"The Morning After" is a murder mystery that features romance, blackmail and suspense but it's the relationship between the story's two leading characters that provides the main focus of the action and also most of the humour and interest that make this movie so enjoyable to watch. Its opening scene is really intriguing and sets the story up brilliantly. What follows is loosely based on "The Blue Gardenia" (1953) and like its predecessor, this movie features a woman who was with a murder victim on the night he died, awakens the next morning unable to remember what happened and then has to put her trust in someone of whom she's not certain.

Alex Sternbergen (Jane Fonda) is an alcoholic ex-actress who wakes up in a strange bed next to the corpse of a man she doesn't know and has no memory of how she got there. She's immediately convinced that the police won't believe her story because she has a history of becoming violent and suffering blackouts after her drinking binges and had even stabbed her first husband with a paring knife during one of her blackouts. In her panic, Alex heads to the airport but can't get out of L.A. because it's the Thanksgiving holiday and all the flights are booked. Feeling desperate and anxious, she gets involved in a car accident and races away from the scene into a nearby parking lot where she meets Turner Kendall (Jeff Bridges).

In her efforts to escape the other irate drivers involved in the car accident, Alex gets into Turner's car and together they drive away from her pursuers. Turner's an easy-going, bigoted, ex-cop who says "I like to repair stuff, whatever people are through with" and works mainly on small appliances like toasters. Turner and Alex gradually get to know each other and fall in love. She doesn't know whether or not she was responsible for the dead man's murder and he tries to help her to solve the mystery. The problem is she isn't sure whether or not she can trust him, especially as her estranged husband Joaquin "Jacky" Manero (Raul Julia), who's a very successful hairdresser in Beverly Hills, warns her that Turner is actually trying to frame her. Alex and Turner stick together and eventually discover who the murderer is and also the extent to which blackmail was involved in the crime.

"The Morning After" makes a strong impression visually with good use being made of interesting locations and a colour palette that uses a range of pastels quite effectively. The scene in which Alex escapes from the apartment where the killing had taken place is particularly memorable because at a time when she's feeling desperate and scared, being situated in a highly lit, deserted-looking street in which she's dwarfed by the structures around her, really emphasises her plight and reinforces the impression that, in these very open surroundings, there really is no hiding place.

Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges are both exceptional in this movie and the chemistry between them is the icing on the cake. Fonda (in an Oscar nominated role) makes Alex's combination of toughness, vulnerability and self-doubt totally believable and Bridges is wonderfully subtle in a performance that creates a lot of distrust about how sincere he is in his concern for Alex's predicament. The dialogue they share is also superb and some of Alex's cutting remarks really sting.

There's a great deal to enjoy in "The Morning After" and the whole experience of watching it is extremely entertaining. Its only disappointment, however, is the resolution to the mystery which, unfortunately, isn't up to the standard of everything else that precedes it.
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5/10
All the right ingredients but what happened?...
Doylenf23 December 2006
THE MORNING AFTER is one of those films that begins with an intriguing opening--JANE FONDA wakes up in bed next to a murdered man and, because she was in an alcoholic daze, can't remember even entering the man's apartment. So far, so good. Nice hook to draw the viewer in.

But as the story unwinds, it becomes clear that the writers ran out of material for a substantial story about midway through. The weaknesses are offset somewhat by the good performance of JEFF BRIDGES as a helpful policeman who agrees to help Fonda solve the who-dun-it aspect of her plight.

It's all beautifully staged and photographed in a sunlit Los Angeles and worth watching for the performances alone. Fonda is at her best as the worried alcoholic who refuses to believe she could have committed the crime and Bridges provides some good chemistry as a co-star.

But the ending (with its revelation) is a bit disappointing after all the build-up to a conclusion. RAOUL JULIA and KATHY BATES have minor roles but the weak ending is hard to dismiss.

Fonda won an Oscar nomination and deserved it for creating a dimensional character in a story thin on believable characters.
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What a beautiful LA!
NAragonss2 November 2003
I Think I´ll never see again the city of Los Angeles so beautiful like in this movie. The sky is so blue that the color seems made in a laboratory. The shining California sun gives a very lighted look to all the scenes filmed on street locations. Jane Fonda, playing an alcoholic but also a sensual lady, is brilliant too and so sexy as she was in 1971, when she won the Oscar for "Klute". You´ll enjoy watching "The Morning After", if you love LA, the sunny days and ladies like Jane Fonda.
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5/10
A could have been
ryancm27 December 2007
For what it is, MORNING AFTER is good, but could have been great with a sturdier screen play. Interesting premise, but somehow it really doesn't take off. The ending is denouncement is convoluted and not very satisfying. Hard to believe that what happened actually happened! One major error is when Jeff Bridges leaves Jane Fonda off and she goes back into the loft. Bright daylight. When she enters its completely dark out as she closes the drapes. Bad continuity. This is basically a two character movie, maybe three with the Raoul character. Noboby else has anything than a bit. Look close for Kathy Bates before she hit it big. All toll, worth a look, but don't think too hard.
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Pretty good who "dun-it"
nutty22721 August 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I kind of like this movie, really always have.Jeff Bridges is outstanding, J.Fonda is great, and Raul Julia is also fantastic.On top of all that, Sydney Lumet does a decent job directing too.

SPOILERS: Basically, Jeff Bridges shines as a Bakersfield ex-cop named Kendall Turner,a real good ole' boy, who has all sorts of hillarious remarks about minorities and prostitution, but in reality he's a decent guy who believes in old fashioned values.Fonda plays a lush, who is fixated on her past as an actress who never quite made it.The late Raul Julia plays a Hollywood hair dresser named Jackie, who is an estranged husband of Fonda.Without giving away too much of the plot, I'll just say it has a decent and unlikely ending, pretty well conceived.Fonda is not sure if she's being framed for a murder she didn't commit, or if she actually stabbed a porn photographer in the chest with a kitchen knife,while on one of her drunken binges.In one scene early in the film, it becomes apparent someone is hiding in a closet of a loft apartment,watching Fonda as she attempts to cover her tracks in the dead man's residence.A cat wanders into the closet, and when she calls for it, she notices the door has been closed,.....ON ITS OWN!!! A chilling sequence,to say the very least.

If you dig murder mysteries, than check this one out,from circa 1986.
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6/10
Mourning what should have been a really good film.
brefane24 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The script is as scatter-brained and uncertain as its lead character. It's the first and last script to date by James Hicks aka James Cresson. A comedy thriller romance mystery character study, it contains gaping wholes in logic, red herrings, inconsistencies in characterizations, lengthy expositions, and a preposterous plot to frame Fonda's character. Nonetheless, the talents involved particularly Fonda and Bridges make it consistently watchable and involving starting with the opening scene. It's inoffensive and low key with funny dialog and good interaction between the two leads. An entertaining and pleasant way to kill time. Sidney Lumet's direction lacks the necessary urgency and tension to make the suspense aspects work and the viewer assumes from the start that Alex Sternberg aka Viveca Van Loren is not the murderer. The film captures LA well enough and provided Fonda with her last good film role and Oscar nomination to date.
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8/10
Despite the flaws I enjoy this film.
sunznc5 November 2010
The film takes place in LA in the 1980's. So you know what that means- I don't even need to say do I? Any film from the 80's has a very distinct look and while you see glimpses here and there of that era it's not too much to be distracting even if some screen time takes place in a beauty salon.

The film is interesting to watch because of the actors. They all do a good job here. Jane especially. Jeff Bridges and Raul Julia also are very good here. So it is the acting, the performances that make the film. The sets too are great-they almost are a character themselves from Alex's Pink and Mauve art deco place to the low budget but homey place of Turner's garage pad.

The flaws. There are some. Some of the dialog is cheesy and clichéd with laughable lines. The references to different cultures here in crude and crass terms. This was way BEFORE "politically correct".

This is not the greatest movie but I still love it and drag it out to watch about once a year.
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The Light vs The Dark
Gidget26 August 2003
This film most closely resembles the Film Noir of the 40's & 50's in feel and form. The only difference is the open light of LA on the Thanksgiving weekend. The scene at the airport communicates how much this City (LA) is a city where everyone comes from somewhere else. The great evacuation scene at LAX leaves lonely people like Fonda and Bridges behind, and is meant to explain the relative vacant feel of the town throughout the rest of the film.

The bright autumn light and vacant cityscape during the film is a surrealistic version of LA, which even a native like me seldom gets to see. The rest of the film is much like a "B" film noir picture, where we wonder (but not seriously) whether Jane's character may have actually done the deed in a drunken haze, and whether the Cop's will be able to get the right killer.

I love this film, not only for the scenes of LA, but for the good suspense generated by the unseen evil lurking in the all too limited shadows.
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* *1/2 out of 4.
brandonsites198128 September 2001
Jane Fonda stars as struggling, alcholic actress who wakes up one morning next to a dead, murdered courpse, only she doesn't remember anything about the night before, doesn't even know who the murdered person is, or why she is being set up.

Jane Fonda turns in a terrific Oscar nominated performance in this thriller that manages to entertain and scare every once a while, but mainly fails due to a poor script. What a shame with that cast and director though.
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5/10
Ridiculous melodrama...
moonspinner551 January 2007
Overripe concoction in a shiny, sterile package. Jane Fonda plays a glamorously burnt-out alcoholic in Los Angeles who wakes up one morning after a bender and discovers a bloody corpse next to her in bed. Jeff Bridges (talking slowly with narrowed eyes) is an ex-cop who helps Fonda piece together the previous night's events. Soaper-cum-mystery-thriller, directed by an uninspired Sidney Lumet, defies logic and credibility at nearly every turn. Fonda works hard to elevate the proceedings, and received a surprising Oscar nod for her efforts, but she can't overcome the clumsiness of the plot's conception (nor the lousy screenplay). A huge disappointment for noir buffs. ** from ****
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3/10
a lame dog of a thriller
mjneu599 December 2010
An over-the-hill Hollywood starlet (Jane Fonda, surely not typecast?) wakes up in a stranger's bed, only to find her companion dead with a dagger in his chest. The set up is immediately compelling, but it's the only worthwhile scene in an otherwise strangely unthrilling thriller. The film is a juicy premise with no payoff, presenting just two possible suspects (only one logically implicated), and hustling in a vague motive for the crime, almost out if the blue, just before the final credits. Never mind the actual details, which in retrospect are about as memorable as Fonda's one-night stand. Jeff Bridges co-stars as a benevolent ex-cop from Bakersfield (who meets Fonda entirely by chance), and Raul Julia plays her ambitious hair stylist ex-husband. Which of the two is the more likely killer?
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7/10
Good acting, great dialogues, bad script
anijdam11 January 2001
Even though this movie is not what it could have been, it is still a pleasant sit. Jane Fonda is convincing as a distressed alcoholic actress who couldn't quite make it and Jeff Bridges is perfect as a sluggish mysterious well-doer. Although the script is a major failure, it does contain some very enjoyable close to real-life dialogues. The music is at times irritating and suggests more than is actually happening. If you're going to watch this movie, you'll have to watch it for some of its scenes, not for the overall quality.
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8/10
Terrific film!
The_Core22 February 2004
Thanks mostly to the incredible cast, this is an excellent film in my opinion. The plot itself is nothing special, but the direction, acting, cinematography are first rate. I really enjoyed it and was entertained, which is of course what films are all about. Jeff Bridges held his own easily with Fonda -- another excellent performance on his part. Worth renting or catching on cable... 8/10.
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9/10
Minor film with great performances coming from an outstanding cast
Rodrigo_Amaro3 March 2012
One night partying, drinking and having some fun. The next morning she wakes up next to a dead body. "How did I got here? I don't remember anything of what happened last night. How do I get out of this? Did I killed this guy?" That's what crosses the mind of Alex (Jane Fonda), an alcoholic and decadent actress whose major problem with drinking led her to this living nightmare. To help with both her long time problem and this surprising new one comes an ex-cop (Jeff Bridges) who also had a bad history with alcohol.

This film noir look-a-like is more of a drama about these two people helping each other overcoming bad things than a movie concerned in solving the murder of the guy who was with Alex. It is more interesting to see how these unusual couple act together than to stay focused on the thrilling aspects of the story and its revelations.

Not much of a memorable film, "The Morning After" is a good opportunity to see Sidney Lumet directing Fonda (Oscar nominated for her role here), Bridges, Raul Julia (playing the hairdresser Jackie, husband of Alex) and Kathy Bates (on a minor role). It's a simple project but has great performances from everyone involved. Light and funny scenes between Bridges and Fonda fighting each other over a wrecked car's door or the magic trick pulled by the woman to make people disappear (always fails) are priceless.

Positively enjoyable, a good film indeed. 9/10
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Yawn!
donwc199616 November 2011
This has to be one of the worst films ever made. As I sat through it I kept asking myself why am I watching it? Maybe I wanted to know for sure that it was actually as bad as I thought it was. And it was. I was a big fan of Jeff Bridges but not really for any of his films and certainly not this one - I just always liked him probably because I liked his dad so much. But I actually thought that Jane Fonda's role was absolutely laughable. She was completely unbelievable as was Raul Julia. Casting against type never works and it definitely does not work here. And the fact that Sidney Lumet directed this mish-mash is the biggest shock of all. One wonders how so much talent could be utterly wasted in so much tripe. Actually, the most interesting performance, I thought, was by Diane Salinger who I remember most vividly from the film whereas everyone else sort of washes out. I looked up Salinger and learned that she has an acting academy in Los Angeles which makes perfect sense since she really shines in this catastrophe.
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6/10
A decent but forgettable suspense thriller
KnightsofNi1127 August 2011
Would you ever think that Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges had chemistry on screen? Well if you want to see it then you won't really find it here. What you will find is good performances from the two, but with a fairly weak script and a story that mildly entertains. The Morning After is the story about a washed up actress who wakes up with a hangover next to a dead man one morning. She has no recollection of the previous night and no idea what to do with herself in this situation. She finds help from a mysterious young man named Turner Kendall, played by Jeff Bridges, but suspense and mystery build as her situation becomes increasingly dire. She doesn't know if this strange Turner character is a blessing or a curse and whether she should trust him, or be deathly afraid of him. And so the mystery begins in this halfway decent suspense thriller of which there's not a whole lot to say.

The Morning After is helped by strong performances and an engaging story that leads you on to want to know the outcome. It is hurt by a weak script and the lack of originality it faces in its midsection. It starts out strong, opening with Jane Fonda's character waking up in bed next to a man with a knife in his chest. She panics and leaves the apartment she is in and tries to get her situation under control before she decides what to do with the body. During this panic she meets Turner, and this is where the mystery begins.

The film builds its suspense nicely, but after a while it starts to flat line and doesn't get any more interesting until the end. A romance begins between Fonda and Bridges, not unexpectedly to say the least, and for a while nothing much happens. The two characters are developed and their relationship grows, but after a while it becomes redundant and their back stories don't end up being all that creative. Fonda is an actress who used to be big and has now fallen into obscurity. Bridges was a big shot cop who suffered an injury and is now a nobody. These character profiles are important to the overall arc of the story, but they don't make our two main characters all too interesting, leading the film as a whole to not be all too interesting. Plus, we have a script that leaves a lot to be desired. But when the film finally comes to its conclusion it isn't something I saw coming, but in retrospect I probably should have been able to see it from a mile away. I can, however, give the movie credit for having a very exciting climax, but that leads into a final scene which wraps the film up a little too nicely.

When you get right down to it, The Morning After is just sort of there. It isn't great, it isn't terrible, but it isn't something I will remember. I won't be thinking about this film in a few weeks and I might not even remember watching it. It's a movie that tells a mildly interesting story with mildly interesting characters played by great actors. It's more or less your typical suspense thriller, and there's nothing wrong with that, but there's really nothing here that is going to stick with me.
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6/10
Promising Beginning but Fades
daoldiges17 June 2018
Fonda and this film both look good, she as a haggard, fas been alcoholic, and sunny Los Angeles nicely photographed. Bridges also gives a solid performance in this story that starts off on good fitting but gradually grows thinner as it progresses. The final disappointment is the films weak ending. If you love Fonda and/or Bridges you might still enjoy this film, but for others I wouldn't go out of my way and seek it out.
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6/10
Good acting carries the lesser writing
Mr-Fusion3 January 2018
I can tell you right now that "thriller' isn't a great word for "The Morning After". Its virtues certainly don't lie in the problematic script and uneven pacing. It's mostly the performances that are involving. The cast here is top-notch; Raul Julia, (I mean c'mon), Jeff Bridges in an unusual role, and Jane Fonda uniquely memorable as a has-been actress.

What's fascinating is what Sidney Lumet does with the warehouse district of L.A., transforming it from smoggy industry to pastel-rich arthouse. Now, that's something.

6/10
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6/10
See LA and Die.
rmax3048236 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Jane Fonda is Viveca, a faded actress and major drunk of this or any other generation, who wakes up in bed with a strange man next to her who happens to have a knife sticking out of his chest. She draws a blank. Did she kill him or not? She cleans the guy's apartment of any trace of herself before leaving and gets home by hitching a ride with a retired policeman, Jeff Bridges. She gets drunk again, wakes up in the morning and tries to take a shower but finds the same dead body propped up in the shower stall.

Her estranged husband, Raoul Julia, does what he can to help but he's involved with his tony hair dressing business and Fonda winds up turning to Bridges for safety, succor, and sex.

Then the plot gets a little twisted.

I think Sidney Lumet must have gotten lost during a binge in New York night spots and woke up in Los Angeles. But he gets it just about right. When Fonda first leaves the corpse's apartment she finds herself on an unfamiliar street, the kind that characterizes LA perfectly. The opening sequence shows us blank warehouse walls on empty industrial boulevards and the avenues of pastel, middle-class apartments are equally devoid of pedestrians. That's the difference between LA and New York. In Los Angeles nobody walks. In New York if you step out your door you are mugged by the crowd.

Fonda is a professional actress undone by age but the role is played with craggy inconsistency. She's pretty tough. She makes wisecracks to the cadaver while she's scrubbing his apartment. She's aggressive and manipulative at LAX. On the other hand, she plays Viveca as a shrill, nervous wreck with a semiquaver in her voice, even when she's supposed to be mellowed out on Thunderbird, a cheap wine. However, Fonda looks just fine considering that she's no longer the teenager of her earlier movies. She's just my age. I saw a recent photo of her and she still looks stunningly beautiful, as do I.

I've always like Raoul Julia's performances. He's reliable, reassuring, good in almost everything he does. Too bad he wasn't around longer. Jeff Bridges usually brings something unique to each of his roles but he's hobbled here by the limitations written into this stereotype of stability. He's a handyman, the eternal fixer-upper, a guy who takes old busted things and refurbishes them, every wife's dream of a man who is good with a wrench and knows how to reintroduce the sputtering home computer to the concept of reliability. He's a man of nature, comfortable enough in his own skin to use ethnic epithets like "beaner" and "spade" good naturedly and without self consciousness, a Mellors the grounds keeper for our time.

The script has little hackneyed touches that I find hard to believe originated with such a seasoned and talented director as Sidney Lumet. Fonda is backing out of the dead man's apartment, bumps into someone, there is a sting in the score, and it's merely Jeff Bridges who has followed her without Fonda or the audience knowing it. It's done twice, and it's pretty cheap. And when Fonda changes her hair from phony blond to natural chestnut or burnt sienna or whatever it is, a grand dramatic display is made of it. The viewer is supposed to applaud because, now, THAT'S the iconic Jane Fonda we know and love. No phoniness here. (She smokes and drinks during the first half of the movie, but not the last half.) The score is by Paul Chihara and the main theme is carried by a soprano saxophone. This might have been a novelty in 1986 but now, after ten years of Kenny G, it's enough to induce thyrotoxic storm.

On the admirable side, she simply stops drinking for a couple of days and is determined never to get drunk again. We are spared the tears and anguish we might experience if she went through withdrawal -- the bottle looming in the foreground, the trembling hand, the half-full glass poured back into the bottle. Still, I have to say that the ending of Lumet's "Verdict" was more realistic. There, Paul Newman's drunk has found himself at the end but it doesn't stop him from drinking.

Also on the good side of the ledger, some snappy lines in the dialog. Viveca's real name is Alexandra Sternbergen. Bridges prefers her real name and so does she -- "In arguments, it's harder to yell 'Alexandra'." It's got a bit of spark.
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