SubUrbia (1997): Linklater

A brooding serio-comedy, “SubUrbia,” arguably Linklater’s weakest film to date, failed to blend his directorial talent with Eric Bogosian’s script (based on his play), a harsh account of twentysomething losers, acting out their miseries in one endless night.

Through actions and conversations they contemplate what they want to do with the rest of their livesBogosian based the story on his own experiences growing up in Woburn, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. The convenience store setting is based on the 7-11 in the “Four Corners” section of the west side of Woburn, and the high-school fight song is the actual Woburn High fight song, “Black and Orange” to the tune of “On Wisconsin.”

The two artists share a concern with youth’s discontent and passion for language, but in every other way their sensibilities are different. Reflecting Bogosian’s age, the film’s point of view feels older, bitter, more cynical than Linklater’s.

The opening shots, set to the tone of Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity,” reveal a typical strip mall with franchise food chains. Three dyspeptic youngsters gather in the parking lot of a 24-hour convenience store: Jeff (Giovanni Ribisi), a college dropout with nihilism that covers idealism; Buff (Steve Zahn), a hedonistic goofball who works in a pizza parlor; and Tim (Nicky Katt), a bitter man discharged from the Air Force after slicing off a fingertip.

Jeff’s girlfriend, Sooze (Amie Carey), and her friend Bee-Bee (Dina Spybey), a nurse’s aide who has been to rehab, join the men. After demonstrating a new performance piece called “Burger Manifesto Part One,” an obscene denunciation of men, Sooze announces her plan to attend art school in New York, to which Jeff reacts with disdain that masks jealousy.

Pony (Jayce Bartok), an old schoolmate who had formed a band, arrives in a limo with his sleek L.A. publicist, Erica (Parker Posey). Pony is a likable kid who’s just started to hit paydirt, but his modest fortune ignites his friends. Jeff’s jealousy turns into hostility when it becomes obvious that Pony is ready to help Sooze and Buff leave town to pursue their ambitions. Drunken and mean, Tim vents his rage on Erica and on the hard-working Pakistani storeowner.

Linklater approaches Bogosian’s misanthropic material reverentially (the movie is better directed than scripted), keeping the emphasis on the characters–and actors. However, the confined setting–the whole movie is claustrophobically set in a parking lot–reinforces the text’s theatrical origins.

 

Cast

Jayce Bartok as Pony

Giovanni Ribisi as Jeff

Amie Carey as Sooze

Nicky Katt as Tim

Ajay Naidu as Nazeer Choudhury

Parker Posey as Erica

Steve Zahn as Buff

Dina Spybey as Bee Bee

Samia Shoaib as Pakeesa Choudhury

William Martin Hayes as Scuff

Soundtrack

  1. “Unheard Music” – Elastica & Stephen Malkmus
  2. “Bee-Bee’s Song” – Sonic Youth
  3. “Bulletproof Cupid” – Girls Against Boys
  4. “Feather in Your Cap” – Beck
  5. “Berry Meditation” – U.N.K.L. E.
  6. “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” – Boss Hog
  7. “Cult” – Skinny Puppy
  8. “Does Your Hometown Care?” – Superchunk
  9. “Sunday” – Sonic Youth
  10. “Human Cannonball” – Butthole Surfers
  11. “Tabla in Suburbia” – Sonic Youth
  12. “Hot Day” – The Flaming Lips
  13. “Psychic Hearts” – Thurston Moore
  14. “Town Without Pity” – Gene Pitney