I discovered a rare gem Friday night–a modestly-budgeted Hollywood film from 1988 called Miracle Mile. I’d never heard of it before, and have no idea if it ever played the Bay Area. Without a doubt, this is the very best dark and suspenseful romantic comedy I’ve ever seen about the end of civilization as we know it.
Miracle Mile starts out as a gentle, witty, charming, and sweet-natured romantic comedy. Harry and Julie (Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham) meet in a natural history museum and fall in love. He even meets her parents.
Then, in the wee hours of the morning, Harry answers a wrong number and discovers that the U.S. has fired nuclear missiles at the USSR, and that in a little more than a hour, their missiles will reach us. He spends the rest of the movie trying to find his new love and bring her to the airport in time to escape the coming holocaust.
That phone call completely changes the picture’s tone. It’s still funny, but it’s no longer sunny and upbeat (although it remains extremely romantic). Now the film becomes dark and suspenseful, and the laughs come from Harry’s desperation and frustration. As he struggles to arrange an escape, find Julie, bring her along, and keep the escape plan from falling apart, everything that could go wrong does. Harry, a struggling musician, is not your Hitchcockian everyman who discovers inner strengths and abilities when faced with mortal disaster. He’s just a guy, newly in love, doing everything he can in an impossible situation. More often than not, his actions take an impossible situation and make it worse.
As the film reaches its climax, the humor all but drains away. Writer/director Steve De Jarnatt wants us to take nuclear destruction very seriously. In Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick could make World War III funny right up to the end because he never allowed us to truly care for his film’s buffoonish characters–who also happen to be the people who destroy the world. But in Miracle Mile, Harry and Julie and most of the people they meet are warm, loving, and completely innocent. Armageddon may be funny from the War Room. On the streets of LA, it’s a tragedy.
The title refers to the small, upscale Los Angeles community in which most of the film is set.
Can you see the film? Not properly. The DVD is available on Netflix, but it’s cropped to the wrong aspect ratio. There’s a least one decent 35mm print available—I saw it. If there are any theater managers reading this, MGM now owns the movie.
I’m in New York, and saw Miracle Mile.at the 92Y Tribeca. The screening was part of a Doomsday Film Festival & Symposium. De Jarnatt and Edwards were there to talk about the film and answer questions afterwards.