REVIEW: SubUrbia [1996]

“I don’t need a limousine to know who I am. At least I know I don’t know”

Always having been a fan of Richard Linklater’s work, it confounded me that his film after indie darlings Dazed and Confused and Before Sunrise has never been released on dvd. SubUrbia is the kind of movie you hear that fans of his work love, but never found a place in cinema history. Flipping through the movie channels on tv, I happened across the film and could not stop watching until it was over. Much in the same way as his other work, the movie is dialogue driven and concerning a small group of people talking about life and what comes next for them. He has compiled a very nice cast, all of who take their character and roll with it. It is a scary thing, post high school, deciding what to do with one’s life. Having been stuck in the suburbs for so long, one begins to wonder if they can survive outside it.

The compelling thing for me in Richard Linklater films is the general waxing philosophic feel they all seem to have. These are kids that are college age who have things to talk about, questions to have answered, and are not afraid to ask them when they are surrounded by those they trust. This group of friends is caught at a crossroads, not knowing if what they are doing is the right way to go. Many have tried their hands at something, but ultimately gave up to continue loitering around their corner convenience store. When one of their friends, who found success in leaving the small town of Burnfield becoming a rockstar, happens to come home for a show, the group’s equilibrium goes off-kilter as they face what could be. Some feel that if they had applied themselves they could have been successes as well, while others see the shell of a man their buddy has become after being sucked into the machine. The return home opens everyone’s eyes to the situation they are in and for better or worse changes the way they decide to continue living their lives.

While a drama, there are many funny scenes. When a few of them begin talking about the reason Pony became a rockstar, to be able to tell the world his thoughts, to have someone listen to him, they say how rough it is to feel like no one can hear what they are saying. Through the entire conversation Giovanni Ribisi’sJeff is trying to be heard chiming in with his own ideas. The irony of the situation may be a bit heavy-handed, but it is also very true to form. Ribisi shines in this role as an intelligent youth who has never applied himself, always being content with hanging around his troubled friends. He soon realizes that the freedom he has is more important than selling out for fame and fortune, it is the people he cares about that keep him going, not the material things in life he could have. Steve Zahn is again brilliant in one of his earlier roles. He plays the idiot comedian to perfection while also evolving into someone who uses his cheery disposition for success. You begin to see that he knows exactly who he is and is in control at every moment. It’s a shame he now only gets roles that are one-dimensionally that stupid guy there for laughs. It is also a pleasure to see Office Space alum, Ajay Naidu in a good role, touching on the bigotry of American small town life. The success his character is having, while not being American, prays on the jealousy of those who feel their heritage should entitle them to happiness. The lazy toughs around town would rather pick on the foreigners for working hard instead of doing the time themselves.

Rounding out a very good cast is Dina Spybey and Nicky Katt. Spybey is great in a tough role. She is the lackey friend of one of the main group members and tries to fit in. It seems that every time she begins to connect, she is ultimately left alone. The depression her character feels comes through at all times; the despair of someone that troubled around you without knowing how to help is tough. There is so much going on this night that her anguish gets pushed aside until there is no turning back. Then there is Nicky Katt who makes the film. He is an intellectual trapped in the body of a jock who has partied and been king of the town for too long. He sees the world around him for what it is and hates himself for living amongst the grime. Toying with the emotions of his best friends, he seems to have a death wish to just end his suffering. No longer the star football player, the character of Tim can’t apply his intellect constructively and instead uses it to help the others while self-destructing himself.

Linklater is one of the most consistent directors working in and on the fringe of Hollywood today. His films always seem to have a message coming through them, trying to uncover a truth of life. Every one of his characters is true to themselves and connecting with humanity at every step. SubUrbia is so much like his other smaller films that I was surprised to see it was written by and based from a play from Eric Bogosian. I am a fan of his acting work, but after seeing this I might finally wipe the dust from my copy of Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio and check it out. Also, maybe I will turn on the movie that started it all for Linklater, Slacker, and see the true evolution he has taken. Hopefully SubUrbia will find its own way to dvd, maybe even the Criterion Collection will release it to join the other Linklater masterpieces it already has.

SubUrbia 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


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