Miracle Mile Day Thread

Today we take a look at the 1988 film Miracle Mile starring Anthony Edwards as mild-mannered musician Harry, and Mare Winningham as confident, yet vulnerable diner waitress Julie.

If you sat down to watch it knowing nothing about it, you might be forgiven for initially mistaking it for a rom com. It starts out simply enough… Boy meets girl, girl invites boy out for a night of wild [night thread!], boy accidentally sleeps through the planned date and ventures out into the night to fix his mistake. At this point you might instead start mistaking it for an After Hours-like night-gone-awry caper. But in one scene, as Harry tries to track down Julie, everything changes:

Nothing good has ever come from answering a ringing pay phone.

Harry picks up a call from a wrong number and learns of an impending nuclear attack, leaving him with only 70 minutes to escape LA. From here the movie devolves into a borderline-surreal survivalist nightmare that gets progressively dark and harrowing as Harry endangers his own chance of survival to save Julie, who is at home sleeping. They try to make their way to a helipad atop a building to catch a helicopter to the airport, from where they will escape to Antarctica to ride out the aftermath of the war.

Discussion of the ending under the spoiler, read at your own risk…
Our intrepid couple makes it to the helipad, but the bombs explode and the helicopter’s controls are knocked out by an EMP. They crash in the La Brea tar pits, sealing their fate to either drown or suffocate. It’s a bizarre and cruel shocker of an ending as Julie panics and Harry waxes rhapsodic about someone in the future finding them after time and pressure has converted their corpses to diamonds, creating a heady mix of romance and pure uncut fear.

I like downer endings where no one gets out alive and this one is especially bleak. The transition from hope that they’ll survive to realizing that they are going to die a horrible death in a watery tomb is instant and the movie ends on a note that is black as night.

While Edwards is well cast and brings a calm strength to his performance, for me the highlight is Mare Winningham. It is unfortunate that she gets saddled with a damsel-in-distress sort of role after the phone call, but watching Julie trying to wrap her head around what is happening and come to grips with her new reality after waking up in a fundamentally changed world is heartbreaking. It’s an experience that is relatable to anyone who remembers what it was like waking up on 9/12, giving the movie a relevance that is fresher than the 80s of it all.

Written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt, writer of Strange Brew and director of Cherry 2000, Miracle Mile is a late entry into the canon of films fueled by Cold War-era fear of nuclear war (it spent almost ten years kicking around in development before finally being made after attaching Edwards as he was riding his post-Top Gun fame). Rounding out the cast is a solid roster of supporting actors including Mykelti Williamson (making the most of his screen time, O-Lan Jones (who lands the funniest scene in the movie), Kurt Fuller (in an impressively unhinged performance).

The movie also features some beautiful cinematography (of particular note is dawn breaking over LA as chaos erupts) and a Tangerine Dream score that is both ethereal and grim. It captures a late-80’s vibe that lands just this side of Michael Mann and is a treat for both 80s and Los Angeles nostalgia buffs.

Anyway, listen to some Tangerine Dream today and have fun posting.