Suburbia
Rated R–extreme use of obscene language

The Gen-Xers of Burnfield gather outside the convenience store. This film by Richard Linklater based on a play by Eric Bogosian brings the banality of the '90's young adult culture to the timeless themes of youthful angst and cynicism. Though its dependence on obscene talk and sexual imagery in the opening act is overpowering, the punch it delivers puts it in the company of Romeo and Juliet, Rebel Without A Cause, West Side Story, and Saturday Night Fever. It holds its own in that august number.

Linklater says his stock in trade is movies in which lives are changed in a short span of time. As in his earlier movie Before Sunrise, a number of lives are forever changed in Suburbia in the course of a single night.

Jeff (Giovanni Ribissi, who played the boyfriend on television's My Two Dads sitcom) hangs out with his friends nights by the Circle A convenience store in Suburbia, USA, aka Burnfield. His girlfriend Sooze (Amie Carey) has a goal for her life: to make it big as a poet performing her works in New York. One of their schoolmates, Pony (Jayce Bartok) has already made it bigger than Jeff and his buddies Tim (Nicky Katt), a dropout from the airforce, and Buff (Steve Zahn, That Thing You Do) have any hopes of doing. Pony has broken into the music world with his brand of rock ballads, and he has promised to drop by the Circle A to see his old friends after his first big-time concert at the local arena. His old friends don't even have their acts together enough to scare up tickets to attend the concert.

Jeff is the contemplative member of the group, attempting to find and live by his principles. Those around him are each in varying ways on the edge mentally and emotionally: Tim as the life-hating ex-GI who could turn violent; Buff as the sex-obsessed would-be stud who may or may not be bluffing about everything, and Sooze, who thinks violent language and imagery are poetic and the route to her success. And there's also Sooze's friend Bee Bee (Dina Spybey) who has already been over the edge, through rehab for alcoholism, and may be on her way back to the edge again.

Though the first act sets up the banality of their corporate lifestyles, in the second act as the night wears on and the alcohol they're all imbibing takes effect, the youths turn philosophical and the story takes on a far more serious tone. Don't be misled, behind these cynical masks of the Generation-Xers, there's a genuinely cynical core.

Pitted against the shallow Americans are the young manager of the convenience store and his wife, Pakistani immigrants who can't take anything for granted if they're going to realize their aspirations. And of course with that attitude, unless they are blown away by senseless suburban violence, they can't help but achieve the American dream. Their goal-less American peers, despite their patronage of the store's beer cooler, become their nemesis: nuisances, sources of friction and fear, and possibly even roadblocks to their success.

Linklater and Bogosian have created a minor classic that should be even more worth watching a generation or two from now than the stilted Rebel Without A Cause is today. Despite the ugly language, there's probably nothing you haven't heard out the back door if you live in suburbia. There's enough food for thought here to make this a first-rate movie experience for mature teenagers and young adults through their parents' and even, dare I say, grandparents' generation. Highly recommended.

 

Photo by the film's distributor

1997, Jon Kennedy