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Small, quiet virtues are rare enough in American movies these days, but to find them in a bittersweet autobiographical script by none other than Joe Eszterhas—about growing up as a green Hungarian immigrant in early 60s Cleveland—is a genuine shock. Yet I have to admit that earlier Eszterhas-scripted movies such as Basic Instinct and Showgirls, for all their grotesqueries, have gradually become guilty pleasures of mine; there?s something touching about his honest primitivism. When the grotesquerie?s removed—as it has been under the thoughtful direction of Guy Ferland (whose only previous feature is The Babysitter)—what emerges is solid and affecting. Brad Renfro plays a shy 17-year-old compulsive liar who goes to work for a master, a payola-happy rock DJ (Kevin Bacon in his prime) named Billy Magic. What the kid winds up discovering—like the hard discoveries in Elia Kazan?s America, America—is more nuanced than you might think. The period detail is mostly perfect and the casting of certain minor parts (such as Luke Wilson as an egg-market manager) sublime, and the purity of feeling recalls exercises in nostalgia on the order of The Last Picture Show. Everyone here gives a good performance; as the hero?s father Maximilian Schell plays beautifully against the expected stereotype, and Calista Flockhart is equally impressive as the coworker the boy has a crush on. I don?t know if I could call this movie profound, but most of it feels true, and I loved every minute of it.

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