Ethics & Public Policy Center

One Night Stand

Published in EPPC Online on November 1, 1997



I was, as my long-time readers may remember, inclined to give Leaving Las Vegas the benefit of a very considerable doubt that it was not, as it seemed to be, about insane self-indulgence but, like Kiss or Kill, about the intersection of love and trust. One Night Stand, the latest from that film’s director, Mike Figgis, suggests that I was wrong.

Wesley Snipes plays Max, a successful and happily married director of commercials from the west coast who is visiting New York on business. To the camera he tells us story of his best friend, Charlie (Robert Downey Jr.), a gay choreographer in New York who has recently come down with AIDS. The two of them had a falling out five years ago, but now Max wants to bury the hatchet. This they manage to do in a scene of renewed but somewhat strained camaraderie. Max shows Charlie the pictures of his attractive wife Mimi (Ming Na Wen) and kids. As Max is on his way out of town, however, he meets a strange woman called Karen (Nastassja Kinski) and is thrown together with her through an amazing series of coincidences that begins to seem to both of them like the hand of fate.

They enjoy the eponymous one-night stand, and Max returns to the delectable Mimi, thinking that he can leave the events of the night behind him. Not too surprisingly, he cannot. He becomes a lovesick puppy. His work suffers. His marriage suffers. His family suffers. At last he is called back to New York because Charlie is dying. He joins a tight circle of Charlie’s close friends and family in his final days only to discover—would you believe it?—that Karen is Charlie’s sister-in-law, married to his handsome and personable brother Vern (Kyle MacLachlan). He and Mimi and Vern and Karen have sushi together. Once again, it seems like Kismet. Max and Karen can hardly keep their hands off each other, Meanwhile the dying Charlie is selling all the friends and family on his philosophy of life, which is basically that of the old Schlitz beer commercial: You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can.

Guess what happens? At the party which follows Charlie’s memorial service, Max sees an apparition of his dead friend: “You still don’t look happy, Max. Do something.” He does something. More surprisingly, Vern and Mimi do something too. The final scene—” One Year Later”—shows the four of them once again having sushi at the same restaurant in Manhattan. The camera lingers absurdly overlong on the four of them just as the two couples are about to separate—as if you couldn’t see the “surprise ending” coming a mile off. Sure enough, what looked like fate was fate. True love triumphs over mere social convention, and there is a happy ending for everyone—except, of course, the kids.

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