Friday February 7, 1997
Richard Linklater is making a career out of stalking Gen Xers. His first film, the $16,000 "Slacker," follows various losers and dropouts around Austin, Texas. His follow-up, "Dazed and Confused," spends a day with some aimless high schoolers in the same town. And his last film, "Before Sunrise," gets off a train with a young couple who'd just met and follows them as they wander the streets of Vienna.
Linklater, almost alone, is fascinated with that awkward stage in life between adolescence and adulthood where individuality is defined more by attitude than character, and where knowledge is just beginning to gain a foothold. With each succeeding picture, Linklater seemed to grow as a filmmaker, just as his characters became more defined and developed.
But with his fourth picture, "subUrbia," he takes two giant steps backward. Back to the 'burbs, back to the dazed and confused, back to material he has done before and much better.
"subUrbia," with a script adapted by Eric Bogosian from his off-Broadway play, is a darker and nastier bit of business than Linklater ever conjured for himself, and it is totally absent the empathy of his earlier films. If you dig deep enough into your psyche, you may be able to identify with the phony self-importance of some of its young characters, a clutch of post-high school friends who hang out in the parking lot of a convenience store. But nothing that happens in "subUrbia" will necessarily make it worthwhile.
The group is composed of types. There's Jeff (Giovanni Ribisi), the budding intellectual on the elusive trail of the meaning of life; Buff (Steve Zahn), a manic geek who acts freshly graduated from "Porky's"; and Tim (Nicky Katt), the obligatory brooding loner.
Apparently, the three buddies collect at the same place every night in fictional Burnfield to drink beer, argue among themselves and harass the industrious Pakistani couple who run the store. On this particular night, they're expecting a visit from Pony (Jayce Bartok), who's gone on to an actual career as a rock singer, and are joined in their wait by Jeff's perky girlfriend Sooze (Amie Carey), a would-be performance artist, and her depressed friend Bee-Bee (Dina Spybey), fresh out of rehab. When Pony shows up in his limo, with his sexually available assistant Erica (Parker Posey), the scene is set for a blizzard of regrets, accusations, rivalries, jealousies and confrontations, not to mention enough sloppy intellectual thumb-sucking to wrinkle the screen.
The main issue dividing the group is inertia. With the exception of Pony and Sooze, who naturally gravitate toward each other, these people are on a slacker's sabbatical, taking time off from time off, as if being 20 is a condition, like barrel fermentation, that can take five or 10 years. No question, Linklater and Bogosian are dealing with truths about that age, but they have nothing new or particularly interesting to offer, and they've created such an unpleasant group, it certainly isn't inviting.
subUrbia, 1997. R, for strong language, including sex and drug references, teen drinking and brief nudity. A Castle Rock production, released by Sony Pictures Classics. Director Richard Linklater. Producer Anne Walker-McBay. Written by Eric Bogosian, from his play. Photography Lee Daniel. Editor Sandra Adair. Production designer Catherine Hardwicke. Art director Seth Reed. Costumes Melanie Armstrong. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes. Giovanni Ribisi as Jeff. Steve Zahn as Buff. Amie Carey as Sooze. Nicky Katt as Tim. Dina Spybey as Bee-Bee. Parker Posey as Erica.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun