Where the Day Takes You (1992)

The teenagers in Marc Rocco's independent feature “Where the Day Takes You,” co-written by him, Michael Hitchcock and Kurt Voss, are young runaways and homeless, who are trying against all odds to establish surrogate families as a substitute for the missing biological ones.

When the movie came out, some critics labeled it as “Rebel Without a Cause,” transposed to a world of hard drugs, petty crime, harsh existence, and hopes for a better future. Indeed, there are no adult figures in this milieu, no parents, no teachers, no counselors.

Despite poor childhood, various kinds of abuse (sexual too), and hard street life, the teenagers are still kids at heart, and sometime downright naive. Rocco depicts the lives of lost characters whose romantic personalities remain untouched by their depressing surroundings. At night, they gather beneath a freeway overpass, a place that's been turned into a communal campground with mattresses and candles. They also congregate in seedy diners, along Hollywood Boulevard, begging for spare change from anybody who would stop and listen. Occasionally, out of boredom and aimlessness, they jump onto freight trains and ride off–to nowhere. Some of them carry guns, shoot dope, and occasionally even shoot each other.

Most prominent among the protagonists is King (Dermot Mulroney), a boy who has been arrested several times and is more experienced than his peers. His clique includes the feisty but moody Greg (Sean Astin) and the angry Little J (Balthazar Getty), who seems to be doing the wrong thing; when he picks a gun, it has no bullets. Heather (Lara Flynn Boyle), the only female, has run from home on her way to Hollywood Boulevard and what it represents.

Among the few adults around is a lonely man (Stephen Tobolowsky), whose presence emphasizes just how desperately the youngsters want love, shelter, and protection. Indeed, they are survivalists whose bravado and outrageousness are just a camouflage that masks deep fears and anxieties.

The film's serious intent is beyond doubt, but the execution leaves much to be desired. There are powerful moments that convey life on and off the streets, but occasionally, it's a prettified, Hollywood-kind of look at teens. For every gut-wrenching OD or bloody fight scene there's rock music montage with lyrics that tend to dwarf the dialogue.

Hovering between sociology and art, realism and stylization, “Where the Day Takes You” seldom finds its right tone and mood. The simple narrative, with its predictable events and outcomes, is far less significant than its gritty texture and portraiture of desperate characters, and King Baggot's dynamic camera helps to convey the kids' restlessness.

Then there's the problem of thematic omissions. Despite the fact that the film depicts intravenous drug use and prostitution, there is no mentioning of AIDS, which is peculiar considering the contexts and times (early 1990s, the height of the AIDS epidemic).

As noted, their camaraderie is a haphazard attempt to create a new family to replace the biological one they've fled. They establish intense but brief bonds that are easily shattered, leaving them again in a state of neediness and dispossession.

For all its outrage, “Where the Day Takes You” is a minor work, one that's more emotionally effective when it's loose and improvisatory. In moments, the narrative feels like made-for-TV drama about runaways.

The film offers an upbeat coda that hasn't been earned. The script's social consciousness is overstressed, as if the film were intended as a fund-raising event for homeless kids. In what is a blatant message, the film offers some grim statistics on teenage runaways, and even a hot-line number for Covenant House.

Ultimately, “Where the Day Takes You” is more important in displaying young actors on the cusp of more promising screen careers than as a poignant chronicle of troubled youth. The movie showcases the talents of Will Smith, star of TV's “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” and Kyle MacLachlan, as a drug dealer, both of whom would became major actors. Other new faces include Balthazar Getty, James Le Gros, Sean Astin, Lara Flynn Boyle, Ricki Lake.

Credits

A New Line release of a Cinetel Films Production.
Director: Marc Rocco.
Producer Paul Hertzberg.
Executive producers: Lisa M. Hansen and Marc Rocco.
Screenplay by Kurt Voss, Michael Hitchcock, Marc Rocco. Cinematographer: King Baggott.
Editor: Russell Livingstone.
Costumes: Michael Fitzpatrick.
Music: Mark Morgan.
Production design Kirk Petruccelli.
Set decorator: Gregg Grande.

Running time: 107 Minutes.
MPAA-Rating: R