Hey, remembers the ’80s? I don’t, because I wasn’t around then. But I still get my fair share of the culture of the iconic decade through two mediums – music, and of course film. The 1980s were a time where romantic comedies were smart and funny, where there were songs by Burt Bacharach, and while the films were formulaic, they were always so fresh somehow. Night Shift is one of the best examples of a stereotypical 1980s romantic comedy, and for all the right reasons.
First of all, Henry Winkler was already an established star and an icon – he was Fonzie, after all. Yet, it is strangely tragic how after years of that iconic performance, people tried to make him a movie star. It didn’t exactly work (he has made a name for himself as one of the more bankable and reliable TV stars since then). Here he plays Chuck, a meek milquetoast of a man who works at the morgue, and is forced to take the night shift. It is there that he discovers what it means to be a man in some very strange circumstances, including becoming a pimp to a group of very lost young ladies, and his own romantic feelings towards his neighbor, Belinda (Shelley Long, who is clear was also trying to be a film star. This was right before he Cheers fame, so at least she got recognition there).
Night Shift, by itself, featuring the performances of Winkler and Long is a pretty mediocre movie. It has a contrived plot and a very…strange story running through it. Now then why is it a paramount of 1980s cinema? Michael Keaton. Talk about a breakthrough role. In his very first major role, Keaton plays Bill Blazejowski, a zany, energetic combination of Humphrey Bogart cool and Rick Moranis awkwardness. Keaton is absolutely hilarious as Bill, a man who engrossed in ideas for new inventions and businesses, and always on the prowl for a quick buck. I would say that with the exception of the obvious Brat Pack, Michael Keaton in Night Shift was the breakout star of the 1980s. Who knew a supporting role like this could lead a man to becoming an icon of cinema, playing Batman, Beetlejuice and then thirty years later, headlining the eventual Best Picture winner. Everything Michael Keaton is today, every one of his great and underrated performances can be traced back to that very second we see his shadow approach the glass-paned door like some infernal ghost of comedy. The second he burst through that door, he burst into the film industry, and while it may seem like I am overhyping Keaton and his career, I do believe that he is one of the most underrated actors of all time, and one that deserves much more recognition than he has gotten up until this point. Night Shift stands as quite possibly the greatest debut for an actor ever, and it was only the beginning for a great career.
Night Shift is a great film, even when you don’t consider Michael Keaton, who I do think is a huge part of the film’s success. It is quirky and unique, and actually quite dark in subject matter. It is sweet, funny and one of the most brilliant films of the 1980s. It could’ve been a lot better (I wish Henry Winkler gave a little more to this performance, yet he was still very good) but I do think the film has aged very well, and while it may not appeal to a lot of people, it is still a fun film and one I really did enjoy
But watch it for Michael Keaton – he’s excellent.