Directed by Sidney Lumet
There’s a little bit of Sunset Boulevard to The Morning After, a film about an alcoholic actress struggling to leave the spotlight. She meets a younger man who is instantly attracted to her. In this case, though, they also have to deal with the dead man in her bed.
What makes the film work is not the ‘whodunnit’ question but rather the details that bring to life Alex Sternbergen (Jane Fonda) as well as her relationship with an ex-cop named Turner Kendall (Jeff Bridges). The sensationalism of the first scene, in which she finds herself in bed next to a dead sleazy photographer who just so happens to be plastered all over the television set in their room has to do with a murder plot that only highlights the desperation her character already feels.
She doesn’t even know if she is being framed or if she actually killed the man because she cannot remember the night before. Alex is a washed up tv actress whose alcoholism isn’t just a character detail but instead something she struggles with intensely. That there is a dead man in her bed (and later her closet) only sheds light on the things in her life that need to be addressed.
She will meet Turner when she hops into his car to avoid getting caught by a cab driver whom she rear-ended. It’s a meet cute, and because he’s so immediately drawn to her, without knowing who she is, he takes on an active role in her life.
It’s a good deal of time before Turner gets roped into her predicament. She allows him to come inside with her because he looks like a sad golden retriever on her doorstep, and then, seeing that she has no food in the house to speak of, he does some shopping and cooks her a romantic dinner.
Over the course of a pretty insightful conversation, in which she mostly pokes and prods this mysterious figure who so eagerly dropped into her life, he explains that he likes to fix things up, the kinds of things people have forgotten about. She immediately recognizes that he means her, whether even he realizes it or not.
And it’s this kind of character moment that makes the film work. Later on it will become more genre-y, and it’s never exactly bad, just somewhat neat and orderly. We learn who set her up and why, with the film answering questions that I never had, even though a movie like this is obligated to answer the ‘whodunnit’ question.
What we learn is that Alex, a desperate character, was framed precisely because her desperation and a past incident or two set her up as a good scapegoat. Over the course of the film she must address all the things that have gone wrong in her life and own up to her own mistakes because she is not even sure herself that she’s innocent.
It’s her desperation that someone has capitalized on, but as in a trial by fire she clears her name and learns to overcome her own demons.
Up Next: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Sightseers (2012), You Were Never Really Here (2017)