Ben Stiller — funny guy, right? He’s funny again in this film version of the autobiography of Jerry Stahl, a successful TV writer (Alf, thirty-something, Moonlighting) and reformed heroin addict. But you might choke on the twisted laughs in this one, seeing as they come with blood, vomit and track marks. In adapting Stahl’s 1995 memoir, writer and director David Veloz aims for the dark poetry of Leaving Las Vegas but only fitfully hits his target.
It’s Stiller, in a dramatic tour de force, who transcends the character’s degradation and exposes raw feelings. Just out of rehab, Jerry meets a woman (Maria Bello) willing to try a relationship with a junkie whose habit cost him his job and his wife (a surprisingly strong Elizabeth Hurley). In a wrenching scene, Jerry shoots junk into his jugular while his baby sits in the car seat beside him.
Tough to watch? You bet. But Stiller pulls you in by blending humor and horror without bogus piety. Even when the film threatens to be just one more journey into the heart of detox, Stiller finds the core of loneliness that reduces this Hollywood player to a parasite. Stiller’s restless, haunting power makes Permanent Midnight impossible to shake.