I used to think of Steve De Jarnatt’s magnificently oddball Miracle Mile as one of the most achingly romantic movies I’d ever seen. My younger self, experiencing it for the first time, saw it as a “boy meets girl” story spun out to its most rapturous extreme—a story of souls fused in the belly of nuclear fire. Many years and multiple viewings later, it feels a lot less straightforward. Roger Ebert closes his enthusiastic review of the film with an observation: “If there’s ever an hour’s warning that the nuclear missiles are on the way, thanks all the same, but I’d just as soon not know about it.” At one level, Miracle Mile is the story of a solipsistic young man’s attempt to make that decision for a woman he barely knows, using deception to selfishly separate her from family in what might be their last hour on earth. At another, it’s a perfect time capsule—its finger unerringly on the pulse of a society that had been taught not to let the threat of nuclear holocaust keep it up at night. But boy, those nightmares.
This one begins like a pleasantly hazy post-pubescent fever dream. Anthony Edwards, his star freshly ascendant off Revenge of the Nerds and Top Gun, plays musician and awkward romantic Harry Washello. In a languid opening montage at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, he meets cute with the equally dorky Julie (a terrific Mare Winningham), hitting it off with the proto-Manic Pixie Dream Girl all afternoon. They resolve to meet after her late shift at an all-night diner on the Miracle Mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, but a missed alarm causes him to arrive too late to catch her. That’s when things take a shocking U-turn into the Twilight Zone, as Harry answers a call meant for someone else at the payphone outside the diner, only to hear that America’s nukes had been launched and the retaliatory strike will hit L.A. in an hour. Naturally, Harry sets out to retrieve his girl from her grandmother’s nearby apartment and escort her to a rooftop helipad, where a chopper would presumably take them to safety.