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.