subUrbia (1997) — Gen X slacking at its most dull

“Burger Manifesto Part One is gonna make people think?”

Justin’s rating: Why am I not in any of these movies?

Justin’s review: Let me preface this paragraph by telling you that I do have a life. I get out. I listen to music. I’ve been known to go on dates. I once even saw a ballet. So don’t judge me too harshly for the time when I brought my latest stack of rentals up to the Hollywood Video checkout counter and the clerk widened his eyes at seeing 12 video titles NOBODY ever rents. At the time I quipped, “For some it’s fun. For me, it’s research.”

One of that batch of flicks was subUrbia, a film I rented because it looked like a maybe possibly might-be “Clerks in the Midwest.” After all, if I don’t take the risks in seeing these, you don’t get the rewards.

I won’t keep you waiting until the end of this review for my recommendation on this movie. SubUrbia is a quaint mix of charm and depression, perfect for a Tuesday night. The writers here searched long and deep for a perfect setting, which ended up being various parking lots of suburban strip malls.

If that ain’t enough to suck you in, add a bunch of rather unbalanced individuals who have no lives, want a better life, don’t know how to get that better life, so they just get drunk. It’s all nihilistic and whatever in the finest tradition of Gen X.

Jeff (Giovanni Ribisi) is the sort-of leader of our gang of slackers. Since Jeff very well couldn’t be a soft-spoken drug dealer, the filmmakers fashioned him as a soft-spoken struggling writer. His girlfriend Sooze is a performance artist who will drive you (and him) nuts from her first scene to her last. Then you have older alcoholic Tim, misunderstood alcoholic Bee-Bee, and pretty crazy Buff (who steals the movie in a scene where he rips off a lawn gnome for the sheer thrill of it).

This gang hangs outside a convenience store, killing time in the unnerving wasteland of suburbia until a former friend and current rock star Pony shows up. His success serves to madden Jeff and Tim — and intrigue Sooze and Buff.

Films like subUrbia have much to offer in conversations and weird events, but you have to be prepared for the rather bleaker elements that desperately beg for more uplifting scenes. Sure, we’re all scared of failure, and lots of times it causes us to freeze like cow in headlights instead of taking action. After the umpteenth conversation about how “I want my life to change but I’m afraid to do anything,” I was overly grateful for comedic bits and some of the interesting twists that occur.

Another saving grace is the depth and interest of the characters. Every one of them has problems that are pretty much unchanged from start to finish of the film, but at least they’re explored in tasteful paths. It’s an interesting little community they form, and representative of our larger society. And Parker Posey’s in it.

So, hey, steal a lawn gnome, dance naked, and enjoy getting sick of modern purgatory.

Clare’s rating: Reliving the boring parts of one’s youth through movies isn’t as exciting as it might at first appear.

Clare’s review: I rented subUrbia for three reasons.

1) It was written by Eric Bogosian who is an actor but who came to my attention as the writer/performer of his own plays (Talk Radio and Sex, Drugs + Rock & Roll) that are both boldly written and painstakingly performed. I figured since I’d liked his other stuff, I might like this too.

2) I love Giovani Ribisi. It’s a sickness that compels me to watch him in even the most craptastic of cinematic outings (including The Other Sister, which I actually saw in the theaters). I’ve loved Giovani Ribisi since he was on “My Two Dads” and I’m not ashamed to admit it. So, there was really no chance that I wouldn’t watch this movie since I kind of have to because of this compulsion that I’m barely managing.

3) The convenience store where practically the entire movie takes place is located literally up the street from my house. Plus, all the other stuff that happens was also shot here in town, so I thought it would be fun to look for the stuff behind the stuff to see if I recognized a Chucky Cheese or a Walmart of interest. I did, many times, but for some reason, that wasn’t really as enthralling as I thought it would be.

Basically, there’s a whole lot of talking and not a whole lot of anything else in this movie and sadly, what’s being said ain’t all that interesting. There’s a bunch of bored suburban kids who all hang out, drink, fight, flirt, yell, sleep and ponder their existence. I think we’re supposed to connect to them on some level or care about what they’re whining about, but mostly I just wished I could run up to all of them individually and as a group to shake them out of their stupor.

If I wanted to watch disillusioned teens sitting around acting like zombified jackasses, I’d go to the mall. Tragically, the reason I hate the mall is because everywhere you turn are jackass disillusioned teens wandering around like zombies. It would be annoying if it weren’t so predictable and boring. This goes for the mall and for the movie as well.

Giovani Ribisi is as Giovani Ribisi always is: verging on really compelling practically all the time and never quite pulling it off. I think that’s why I’ve been following his career so feverishly for so long. I just won’t give up on the idea that he might one day really be amazing in something as opposed to reallyclosetoamazingbutnotquitethere. One day little Ribisi. One day.

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