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Less Than Zero

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Less Than Zero
Genre: Drama
Directed By: Marek Kanievska
Produced By: Jon Avnet
Jordan Kerner
Written By: Harley Peyton
Bret Easton Ellis (Novel)
Starring: Andrew McCarthy
Robert Downey Jr.
Jami Gertz
James Spader
Photography: Color
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: November 6, 1987
Runtime: 98 minutes
Country: United States

Less Than Zero is a 1987 American drama film very loosely based on Bret Easton Ellis' novel of the same name. It received mixed reviews and the author of the novel initially hated the film due to it's differences.


Clay Easton (Andrew McCarthy) is a straitlaced college freshman on the East Coast of the United States, who returns home to Los Angeles, California, for Christmas to find things very different from the way he left them. His high school girlfriend and now model, Blair (Jami Gertz), has become addicted to cocaine and has been having sex with his high school best friend, Julian Wells (Robert Downey Jr.). Julian, whose life has gone downhill after his startup record company fell apart, has become a drug addict. He has also been cut off by his family for stealing to support his habit and reduced to homelessness. Julian is also being hassled by his dealer, an old classmate named Rip (James Spader), for a debt of $50,000 that he owes to him.

Bad Qualities

  1. The story feels like the most melodramatic anti-drug PSA since "This is Your Brain on Drugs".
    • This is most apparent in the scene where Julian dies from an overdose, which comes out of nowhere and comes across as a totally forced way to pull at the audiences heartstrings, even though it didn't even happen in the novel.
  2. Most of the acting is really mediocre with some exceptions (see redeeming quality #1) and a lot of people, including the author believe it was miscast.
  3. In an attempt to change the "slice-of-life" storytelling, Julian's addiction which was just a subplot in the source material become the main plot of the story even though it was just one of the many different things Clay experiences in the book.
  4. The Clay in the film is a completely different person in the film as he is now an anti-drug, stereotypical "good guy" protagonist which was basically the opposite of how he is in the novel where he was a casual drug user and an emotionless husk who doesn't care about others.
  5. The film tries to be too sentimental and emotional which was often criticized for being "sanitized" compared to the book which was cold and nihilistic.

Good Qualities

  1. The performances of Robert Downey Jr. and James Spader are actually really good.
  2. Julian is an empathetic character.
  3. It was one of the few films at the time which focused on the decadent youth culture of Los Angeles in the 1980s, something that even Bret Easton Ellis praised.


The film earned mixed reviews and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 52% and 63% from critics and audiences respectively. It has a score of 6.4 on IMDb.


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