Weekly Alibi

DIRECTED BY: Richard Linklater

REVIEWED: 04-09-97

I did not like Slacker. While others found director/writer Richard Linklater's nonsequitur characters and spartan cuts to be brilliantly quirky and hilarious, to me it seemed meandering, pretentious and pointless. Perhaps that makes me too biased to give SubUrbia a fair shake, because the two films have a lot of similarities--lost and wandering characters who pause from time to time to reel off soliloquies on the meaning of life. While SubUrbia has more of a narrative line than Slacker (it would be hard for it not to), it still seems a little too intent on mental masturbation, a little too obsessed with the angst of the ordinary and a little too ... boring.

Based on the play of the same name by Eric Bogosian, SubUrbia is one night in the life of a group of suburban teens. They hang out at the mini mart, getting drunk and waiting for the one who finally got away--in this case their old friend Pony (Jayce Bartok) who is now a "rock star" and has just rolled into town for a night to play the hometown gig. Among the rest of the group, Jeff (Giovanni Ribissi) is having problems with his girlfriend Sooze (Amie Carey), who wants to move to New York and become a performance artist. Tim (Nicky Katt) has dropped out of the military with disability pay and has nothing to do but drink and pick fights with mini-mart clerks. Bee-Bee and Buff (Dina Spybey and Steve Zahn) round out the group as the quiet one and the really drunk one, respectively. They all suffer from various degrees of dissatisfaction with their lives, and their only fun is the mayhem they create either between themselves or in their own minds.

The psychological drama tries to run high and probably worked quite well in live theater: "You-know-what-your-problem-is?"-type confrontations abound every 10 minutes or so. But on film, the effect is that this loose grouping of characters hang out, argue, hang out some more, argue some more, ad infinitum. The problem is not that SubUrbia's characters don't suffer intense pain over their hum-drum lives, but rather that it's shown through verbal sparring in which the characters realize--over and over again--that both their blessing and their curse is that life goes on.

If teen angst is back, then give me the horror that was last year's cinematic gem Welcome to the Dollhouse. There was nothing contrived about the hell that Dawn Wiener suffered at the hands of her classmates, and that film portrayed it so starkly you couldn't help squirming in your seat. Despite a tragic development that serves as SubUrbia's climax, this film just doesn't present any kind of character development or interaction that is in any way original. It all seems strangely dated in a very '80s kind of way. Call it The Breakfast Club Goes to Circle K.

The two films Linklater made between Slacker and SubUrbia--Dazed and Confused and Before Sunrise--seemed to have much more of a bead on youth culture than his latest work. Perhaps the problem is with the source material, since this is the first film he's made that he didn't write himself. Maybe the fortysomething Bogosian isn't quite the right man to chronicle '90s teen lifestyles. Regardless, SubUrbia has the same tendency towards the banal that it sets out to deplore in its titular subject matter. What a bummer, man.

--Angie Drobnic

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Other Films by Richard Linklater
Before Sunrise
The Newton Boys

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Valley of the Dolls
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