The Boost – Addiction In Overdrive

Country: United States
Genre: Drama
Director: Harold Becker
Year: 1988

Rating: ★★★½☆


The mistake in evaluating The Boost would be to see it as a film about Drug Addiction, e.g. Reefer Madness, or to see it as a film about how recreational drugs negatively affect relationships and careers.

The Boost is much more specific than that. It is about a man whose bottomless drive for financial success is fueled by feelings of inferiority and his wife, who believes in him so completely that she allows herself to be swept along like a leaf on a raging torrent.

Sean Young’s performance has been pilloried as being passive and unengaged, but that’s not true. That’s the character, Linda. She is what is known as an enabler. Critics have said that Young and Woods had no chemistry in the film. Not at all. What they have is a chemistry specific to these characters.

Likewise, The Boost has been accused of being melodramatic, alarmist, and corny. Those critics make the mistake of thinking The Boost is about drug addiction per se, ignoring the specific characters.

Frankly, the psychology of Lenny (James Woods) and Linda (Sean Young), as imagined by author Ben Stein and screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan would be a recipe for a disaster in and of itself, but when you add coke, ‘ludes, and freebase into the mix, it’s a catastrophe of epic proportions.

When the film begins, Lenny is a struggling salesman in New York. After making a failed sales pitch, real estate magnate Max Sherman (Steven Hill) is impressed enough by Lenny’s moxy to offer him a job out in L.A. selling real estate as a tax shelter. Linda counsels caution, but as usual, Lenny steamrolls her in his hyperventilating way.

For me, Lenny’s initial rise to fame and fortune is the most unbearably tense part of the film because we see that, even without the added catalyst of drugs, Lenny is headed for a cliff and he’s going to drag his poor wife Linda with him for the long ride down. Of course, given his psychological underpinnings, Lenny is going to spend every penny he makes and then some, trying to convince himself and Linda that he’s worthy of her, which he could never do even if his income was the size of the GNP of a small country.

What critics saw as melodrama and corniness was just director Harold Becker not being afraid to go big with the emotions inherent in the material. Becker doesn’t play it cool. He takes the risk of playing the material straight.

James Woods rewards Becker with another one of his incredibly intense, intellectually and emotionally hotwired performances.

Yes, it’s fairly predictable where The Boost is going to end up, but the film isn’t about surprises. It’s about watching a horrendous slow motion traffic accident, which you can’t turn away from, but instead view between splayed fingers.

As usual, what people find unpleasant, they rationalize reasons to dislike. At least that’s the way it goes with the American public.

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