Welcome back to the very early 1990s with this time capsule of a film I reviewed for dvdsnapshot.com.
"Dude! I had those flannels!"
WHERE THE DAY TAKES YOU
It was the film that captured the grim reality of Hollywood's homeless teens, featuring an ensemble of actors delivering the most startling performances of their young careers. On the dark side of Tinsletown, a group of runaways - including tweaker Greg (Sean Astin), legless Manny (Will Smith), unstable Little J (Balthazar Getty), prostitute Kimmy (Alyssa Milano), just-off-the-bus Heather (Lara Flynn Boyle) and their leader, King (Dermot Mulroney) - live each day lost in a spiral of drugs, sex, crime and violence. They have nothing... except each other. Christian Slater, Adam Baldwin, David Arquette and Ricki Lake co-star - with a soundtrack of songs by Melissa Etheridge - in this powerful drama The Austin Chronicle hails as "often so authentic in its depiction of street life that you'll find yourself flinching."
What do you say about a movie where just about everyone in it went on to be rich, famous and omnipresent in pop culture, making it pretty hard to suspend the disbelief that here they're down and dirty street kids?
Back in 1992, this social study and travelogue of the seedy side of Hollywood was filled with good intentions; grim and realistic. Our central character is a 20 year old street kid named King who's trying to keep together and alive a ragtag "family" of street kids, junkies, and prostitutes. Newly out of jail, he rounds up the group of transient teens, has run-ins with pimps and fights, all interspersed with him giving a videotaped interviews to social worker Laura San Giacomo to give it that feeling of verisimilitude.
Unfortunately the aesthetic now seems impossibly dated because it's an art-directed look at poverty and grit that once looked cool and totally "in the moment." 17 years later, the fact that the cast is as accomplished as this one makes it more so. You get to see Will Smith in a wheelchair, Sean Astin huffing, and an fresh-scrubbed Lara Flynn Boyle with her original lips. Every performance is very accomplished, which is certainly a testament to their talent, but when even the junkie bit-players are Kyle McLachlan and Nancy McKeon and the drug counselor is Christian Slater, it's hard to not look at it through the prism of everyone's success (and in some cases, notoriety)
That said, it still packs the wallop of feeling authentic. Kids did and will wind up on the streets, living these lives. They overdose and get murdered. Their confessions in passing to drug use and being molested can move you to tears. They're still young people exuberant enough to still have hope. The heart of Where The Day Takes You is in the right place, and can still move yours.
I really would have loved a commentary track on this one, as it's such a time capsule of the time it was made. The audio is in Dolby Surround 2.0 English and English, Spanish, and French subtitles are available. Trailers for He Was A Quiet Man, Flashbacks of a Fool, and Where The Day Takes You.
Where The Day Takes You hasn't aged well simply because everybody in the cast went on to become incredibly accomplished. However, it retains grit and a sense of realism. You can plop the teens in front of it and maybe they'll learn something. It's either a cautionary tale or "There but for the grace of god I almost went."
Also, You can put the thirtysomethings in front of it and we'll admit to each other we dressed like that and thought this movie was so cool when it first came out.