Wednesday, August 11, 2010

SubUrbia (1996)

A haunting, truly fascinating portrayal of suburban stagnancy that depicts a night outside a convenience store where several 20ish slackers languish in boredom. Giovanni Ribisi is ostensibly the lead, a wannabe writer living in his parents garage who spends most of his time articulating his self-admittedly suburban angst to his friends and his artist girlfriend, who wants him to move to New York with her to kickstart her art career. His other friends include an alcoholic Air Force veteran, a doofy hedonist (played to perfection by Steve Zahn), and a helpless nurse's aid. This film was arguably director Richard Linklater's follow-up to Dazed and Confused, with many structural and stylistic similarities; it has a crucially specific soundtrack (by Sonic Youth), a focus on spontaneous and, perhaps, ugly sex, and a piecemeal structure that follows several characters through a slightly eventful night in their mundane lives. However, where the films completely differ is tone, and that is where writer Eric Bogosian truly leaves his unmistakable mark; these slackers are not likable, nostalgia-tinged teenagers, but rather angry, lost, repressed, modern young adults who believe, more and more, that they will never find a place for themselves in the universe...or at least, not one that they'll particularly like. The Air Force vet, played by Nicky Katt in the best performance I've seen from him, is a former high school football star who joined the Force to get out of his hometown, only to wind up back home a burned out, cynical drunk, who only remembers his glory days when reminded by the football junkie liquor store clerk. The nurse's aid seems, right off the bat, like an angelic, pure soul, but she is repeatedly abused and forgotten by everyone around her. And Steve Zahn's doofus is a far cry from Ron Slater, and is an amoral, sexist pig who only gets away with his scumminess through his innocent class clown routine. Ribisi, also turning in career-best work, serves as a doppelganger for Bogosian, tearing apart his environment while, in turn, becoming a self-admitted slave to it; he cannot escape his fear that any self-worth that he could, potentially have is futile in the world that surrounds him. The humor is inherent, but bleak, and the series of events that occur manages to continually defy cliche and expectations. There is a more stage-like scope than Linklater's other films (save for maybe Tape, which never leaves the motel room), but the nuanced, organic staging and performances show his mark on the film. And Sonic Youth's score is wonderfully implemented, never calling attention to itself but accenting the film's tone perfectly.

Highly Recommended to pretty much all suburbanites, who I feel can universally relate to this movie in some way, and fans of Bogosian, Linklater's more intimate work a la Tape or Dazed and Confused, or the terrific cast, which also includes Parker Posey as a Bel-Air rich girl who finds the yokels in the film fascinating (she's great).

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