In 1974, long before he was a national figure and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Chicago playwright David Mamet wrote a popular play called "Sexual Perversity in Chicago."
It was about the problems two young Jewish couples had in keeping their relationships together.
The play's title didn't refer to any kinky sexual practices; instead, it emphasized Mamet's recognition of the fear of emotional sharing that so often blocks real contact between the sexes.
The play struck a chord in town because it was topical, foul-mouthed, funny and challenging in its downbeat ending. It was ahead of its time, in a way, because it was dealing with what would come to be known as the yuppie phenomenon.
Maybe that`s why it took more than a decade and several rewrites to bring the play to the screen.
Happily, the result is very satisfying. "About Last Night..." doesn`t have all of the hard edges of the original play, but the message is clear: Young people are as afraid of commitment today as they were a decade ago.
The movie version also offers us two couples, one romantic and one comic, and it's also set in Chicago. The Jewish ethnicity has been removed, much of the dialogue has been changed, and the title was switched reportedly after many newspapers said they would not accept it for advertising.
But that may be somewhat of a studio smokescreen because the title probably tested as a turnoff and the new title works just as well, referring to the way individuals would rather deal with a "night" or an affair than with a continuing relationship.
The male members of the couples in the film are played by Rob Lowe and Jim Belushi. Coincidentally, I have never cared for either actor or any film in which either of them has had a substantial role.
But both actors are a revelation here, meshing perfectly with their subtly written characters. So credit them as well as the script's two Chicago writers, Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue, as well as Chicago-raised director Edward Zwick.
The young men played by Lowe and Belushi work as restaurant supply salesmen by day. It's numbing work, but at night they come alive, hitting the Rush Street singles bar scene with a vengeance.
They're both looking for sex, but Belushi's character has to settle for more beer than beds.
The principal women they meet are an even more intriguing pair of characters, two of the most fully realized young women in recent movies. Again, credit the writers, director and actresses.
The husky voiced Demi Moore is mesmerizing as the sincere Debbie Sullivan. Moore was just as pretty in "St. Elmo's Fire," but her character was a paper-thin caricature compared with Debbie, who manages to be both strong and vulnerable. She's a healthy character, and that is a real rarity in movies about young people.
More hostile, but no less appealing, is Debbie's roommate, Joan, whose attitude toward guys is sort of "hate 'em and leave 'em."
Joan (Elizabeth Perkins in a memorable film debut) is a sharp-tongued plain Jane who obviously has closed too many bars too often. She meets her verbal match in the loud-mouth character played by Belushi, who also uses speech as a shield against emotion.
That's what Mamet's play was about, and the movie captures that idea, too, even if it uses few of Mamet's original words.
In the case of the relationship between Lowe and Moore, it's a question of whether the beautiful man will submit to the beautiful woman.
The only major flaw in the film is that the scene in which they break up is not written strongly enough.
But then the film redeems itself with a deepening of the Perkins-Belushi relationship beyond their one-liners as well as a very sweet and tender ending.
As a backdrop for the human interaction, "About Last Night..." manages to capture the spirit and look of Chicago as well as any film shot here since "Risky Business." And that's true even though about half of the movie was shot in California.
But director Zwick, born and raised in Winnetka, makes an auspicious feature film debut. He knows his hometown's yuppie haunts very well. They're all on film, including the Grant Park softball leagues and the big leagues in Wrigley Field.
He also captures the work ethic and friendly spirit of Chicago in a way that another recent Chicago movie, "Ferris Bueller`s Day Off," misses completely.
But that's because "About Last Night..." is populated with credible human beings. Place these characters in any city and they'd make it look good. The notion of a good "date movie" may be outmoded. But for young couples, I can't think of a more entertaining, more provocative American film to see right now than "About Last Night."
This is the movie "St. Elmo's Fire" wanted to be and missed by a mile. This is a movie that documents a rite of passage in so many people`s lives --from individual to couple.
"About Last Night... (1986)" - 3 1/2 starsCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun