Kaboom: Gregg Araki’s Pseudo-Lynchian Youth Tale

Though he is in his early 50s, Gregg Araki still projects a youthful spirit and energy. He continues to be one of the major chroniclers of American youth culture and anomie, topics that have dominated his work for the past two decades.
In many ways, “Kaboom,” his new work, which world premiered at Cannes Film Fest last year, and is playing at Sundance in January 2011, is a typical Araki movie. It’s yet another coming-of-age comedy with serious overtones, which changes gears and moods as it goes along, reaching a point where it could be classified as a thriller and even a horror flick.
Sharply uneven, as most of Araki’s recent films have been, “Kaboom” is serious and frivolous, funny and creepy, plausible and contrived, real and surreal. In short, the film is full of ambiguities and contradictions—most of which by design—though this aspect may not please many viewers. In fact, it’s hard to tell who the audience for the film is?
The protagonist is Smith (Dekker), an 18 year old student, who struggles with his sexual identity. His roommate Thor (Zylka) claims to be straight, but there is evidence that indicates otherwise. Smith’s buddy is the sardonic Stella (Bennett), who has a crush on a girl (Mesquida).
What this bunch of youngsters share in common is confusion and obsession with both sex, and their sexual identity. Whether gay, straight, or bi-sexual, the young people are trying to find themselves through gaining awareness and experience.
The film’s second half shows the influence of Lynch on Araki. In some scenes, Smith is chased by men in animal heads. Araki includes some strange episodes, which begin as Smith’s nightmares about a sexy femme (LaLiberte) until they assume reality when they start invading his everyday life. There are also allusions to voodoo, witchcraft and other cults.
Most of Araki’s movies include personal, even autobiographical references. In “Kaboom,” for example Smith studies film, just as Araki did back in the 1980s (at USC).
The film is shot in a lurid, colorful style, which serves well the depiction of dreams, anxieties, drug trips, and sex.
Rest assured, “Kaboom” is never boring, but it is not too engaging—or too deep–either.  That said, Araki benefits from his casting of a very likable ensemble that is easy on the eyes.
But, alas, I wish the film had something more significant to say about alienation and anomie. I leave it up to the viewers to decide whether Araki continues to refine and to deepen his exploration or simply repeats himself because he has no other topic that interests him.