Sherman Alexie, the Native American writer known for his poetry which has been anthologized for college students everywhere, said it best when he described the novel Eddie and the Cruisers, a rock and roll novel based in the 1960s, as being full of loneliness. The movie, released in 1983, is no different. There’s a sense of loss in Eddie and the Cruisers that echoes the insurmountable change in the youth and American culture of the 1960s.
Is it translated perfectly in the film? No, however, just like last week’s Streets of Fire, this cult film manages to transcend genre and rock and roll conventions to turn what could have been something simple into a mystery that crackles with the intensity of longing. Both the longing of lost love and lost inspiration. Eddie and the Cruisers isn’t a typical 1980s film. It’s something much more special than that.
The film opens with a mystery. What happened to Eddie Wilson (Michael Pare)? Like Elvis, Hendrix, and Joplin, Eddie Wilson was a musician whose light burned brightly but was snuffed out too quickly. One night in 1964, Eddie drove his car over a bridge and disappeared. His body was never found. Twenty years later, his first and only record with his band The Cruisers is back on the charts. The mystery continues, especially as the audience finds out that the night he drove his car over a bridge, he was coming back from recording a brand-new album, an album that was supposed to be revolutionary. It was called “Season in Hell.”
Hot on the heels of this mystery is journalist Maggie Foley (Ellen Barkin). She seeks out the remaining Crusiers to find the missing tapes as the band’s former keyboardist Wordman (Tom Berenger) does the same and tries to reconcile his past as part of a volatile yet incredibly talented band and his relationship with the equally passionate and talented Eddie Wilson.
Pare acts with incredible nuance, even though this was his first starring role in a big motion picture. He exudes the hot-blooded passion that most musicians often possess when they’re trying to make their mark on the music scene. Berenger as Wordman is just childlike enough that he pales in comparison to the world-weary Eddie. He’s charming but Eddie is even more charming. Yet somehow, Berenger manages to hold the film upon his slender shoulders.
Eddie and the Cruisers pales in comparison to the book, but the film is still sharp and moody. The writing is a little weak, but the overall story still manages to make it interesting and engaging. This is a film that will make you feel things that you didn’t think you could feel and a lot of that does go together with the loneliness and longing within the characters. This is also a film that pays more attention to its characters then it does with its plot but that’s okay. Characterization trumps story sometimes, in my opinion.
If you’ve never heard of either the book or the movie Eddie and the Cruisers, that’s okay. Now’s your chance. If you can find it and rent on Amazon, I highly recommend it.