While trying to navigate adulthood 24-year-old Jake spends most of his days with his friends and fellow misfits at InterSkate Roller Rink. With the help of a seasoned therapist, Jake explores his past, present and future with a different outlook in Sheldon Maddux’s Neon Days.
There is something comfortably 90’s about Neon Days that I adored and it brought to mind so many classics, and not so classic, films from that decade that I began to lose track of all the references. Neon Days is a Generation X film that has been made by Millennials and if you don’t understand those references please allow me to explain. Generation X’ers are the demographic of people born between the years 1965 and 1980 while Millennials or Generation Y come under the next bracket, people born within the years 1981 and 1995.
Despite a few nods in the ’80s, the movies that defined Generation X had their zenith during the ’90s. These were films that mainly focused on young people coming of age in their twenties, usually characterised as overeducated, under-employed, cynical and disaffected. Started by Richard Linklater’s cult hit Slacker in 1991 and encapsulated by films like Singles, Reality Bites, Dazed and Confused, Clerks, Empire Records, Before Sunrise and even Boogie Nights, this period culminated around 2000 with High Fidelity when the Generation X’ers and the actors who encompassed that era were now much closer to 40 and probably needed to grow up.
Neon Days immediately struck me as a love letter to that period of filmmaking as it is written in a very similar way and was made with a very similar attitude. Using a budget of $33,000, with the funds coming from director Maddux himself and a couple of close friends, Neon Days focuses on Jake (Justin Duncan) a 24-year-old man with personal issues that are holding him back in his life. He lives with a lesbian couple, works at a roller skating rink with his friends and has a hidden talent that he chooses to keep hidden. Like most films out of the Gen X playbook, there are no parents in Jakes life to help him make sense of everything, so instead, he regularly visits a therapist played by Eric Hanson, who reminded me of actor Chris Cooper, to talk through his problems.
These scenes are the best in the movie as we have two fine actors reacting to each other in truthful and honest ways. These parts are also very reminiscent of Good Will Hunting and we even have another cast member in a completely different scene utter the iconic line ‘It’s Not Your Fault’. All the performances across the board are top-notch and it’s worth highlighting veteran screen star Glen Morshower from 24, The West Wing and Air Force One, who appears in a small but very crucial supporting role.
Considering this is Maddux’s debut feature film his direction is very assured and his choice of shots is always stimulating. He uses some striking imagery during scenes in the roller rink which is painted with blocky, primary colours of blue and red. His lighting choices help these colours to pop out of the screen in a stunning effect that brings to mind the neon of the title, as well as Dario Argento’s bright colour schemes from Suspiria. He gives us some more unique shots during Jakes museum visits where we see him viewing the different art collections on show. The cinematography via long shots and the use of framing always seem to make Jake look much smaller than the world he inhabits.
The only negative with Neon Days is the pacing of the film and the lack of humour therein; there are periods where very little happens other than people talking to each other and some of the jokes fall a bit flat. This tends to spoil the rhythm of the scenes and leads to them feeling longer than they are. With more experience, I believe Maddux will become a more disciplined editor leading to his films running much smoother. These are minor gripes when a film like this manages to make you feel as good as it does. Therefore as a member of the much-vaunted Generation X, I can highly recommend Neon Days as a great film and a great way to remind you of the ’90s.