Another outstanding first feature at 1990’s Mill Valley Film Festival was Terminal Bliss, scripted by its 22-year-old director Jordan Alan, when he was only 18 years old. Alan’s drama of young friendships curdled by drugs and betrayal is not only keenly observed, it is also filled with a deep understanding rare in this type of film. Alex the protagonist appears to be a flip, wisecracking kid, but he is not so wrapped up in himself that he is unaffected by other people’s sorrows. Alex’s best friend from childhood is John, who grows progressively weirder under the influence of drugs. John is used to having everything all his own way and in one miserable sequence he casually rapes a girl. Alan manages to convey the girl’s intense pain and John’s blurry detachment without a suggestion of the eroticism that far more experienced filmmakers often employ. The cast of unknowns (including Luke “Dylan McKay” Perry in his first starring role) is excellent, but it is Jordan Alan’s steady control of his material that will linger in your memory.
1991 (R) 94m/C Luke Perry, Timothy Owen, Estee Chandler, Sonia Curtis, Micah Grant, Alexis Arquette; D: Jordan Alan; W: Jordan Alan; C: Greg Smith; M: Frank Becker. VHS, LV, Closed Caption