1987’s Light of Day is an unremarkable movie. It’s fine. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a bad movie, but I certainly wouldn’t call it good. It’s simply… a movie. It’s the sort of movie I’d imagine would be right at home in the background of another movie while someone is channel surfing in an establishing shot.
Light of Day stars Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett as two siblings trying to make it in the Ohio’s music scene. Much like in more successful music movies like Purple Rain, their personal problems (namely with their parents) keep interfering with their bid at success and the Joan Jett character’s inability to play nice with others/stay on the kosher side of the law leads to a lot of in fighting/tension in the band. Add to that the fact that her character is a financially unstable single mother, and you have the makings of a simple story with a bit of potential to land.
But unfortunately, this movie doesn’t do much to land any of its punches. Despite being written and directed by Paul Schrader, who penned seminal Scorsese films such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, the movie lacks structure and moves at the pace of a made-for-tv drama, as opposed to a fast-talking and fiery rock n roll movie. One could argue that this is a creative choice on Schrader’s part, to explore things without the glitz and glam of a movie like Purple Rain, but it’s hard to look at the final product here and agree that it was a good choice for the story.
There is stuff to enjoy here though. Michael J Fox, arguably the films true protagonist, puts in a fine performance that was a break from his lighter/more comedic roles at the time. While one would initially assume that Joan Jett is this movies lead, due to it being a film about her bad relationship with her mother and her drive to be a musician, we really get a lot of the films pathos from watching her on-screen brother (Fox) process her actions and try to compensate for the mistakes she’s making. Another highlight of this film would be it’s title track, Light of Day, which was written by none other than Bruce Springsteen. And for an added piece of trivia, Springsteen’s iconic song “Born in the USA” also happened to be the original working title for this film.
I think that, more than anything else in this movie, Jett’s performance is the biggest misstep here. It’s not that Joan Jett is a bad actor though, she actually holds her own against Fox a lot more than one would expect her to; it’s the fact that casting a famous rocker in a movie about rock n’ roll tempers the audiences expectations about what they might get from the film itself. Failing to deliver on such an obvious expectation makes it hard to enjoy the movie we did get here, which (again) is perfectly… fine?
Honestly, for a movie about loving rock n’ roll that stars the woman that iconified the famous Arrows song about loving rock n’ roll… It doesn’t do much to truly show an appreciation for the genre.
I hope you enjoyed this review! If you’re, for whatever reason, still curious about this movie and wanna hear more about it, you can do just that by checking out the episode of my podcast, Media Obscura, about the movie! It’s available on your favorite podcast player, free of charge!