Film Review: SubUrbia (1996)

Release Date: October 11th, 1996 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Eric Bogosian
Based on: the SubUrbia play by Eric Bogosian
Music by: Sonic Youth
Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn, Amie Carey, Nicky Katt, Ajay Naidu, Parker Posey, Dina Spybey, Samia Shoaib, William Martin

Castle Rock Entertainment, Detour Filmproduction, Sony Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“At least I admit that I don’t know. I know that things are fucked up, beyond belief, and I have nothing original to say about it…” – Jeff

SubUrbia was the fourth picture by Richard Linklater and it is a sort of spiritual successor to his films Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It features many of the same stylistic elements and narrative tropes. It is also set in suburban Texas (and filmed in Austin) like those previous films.

While being a comedy, initially, the humor is very dark and the serious tones push this more towards being a drama, as the film rolls on. It follows the lives of a handful of twenty-something friends, stuck and complacent in their lives, talking about their big plans and their next move but ultimately wasting their time on the planet: drinking and moping around a convenience store parking lot. When one of their high school buddies, who became a pop star, returns home to visit his friends, relationships are tested and the group begins to implode.

SubUrbia feels both like Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It has the visual tone and style of Slacker but is more cohesive and follows a group of young people trying to figure out their futures like Dazed and Confused.

It is also the most serious and darkest of Linklater’s early pictures. While the harshness of the film makes it feel more realistic and authentic, compared to his lighthearted earlier pictures, it also doesn’t resonate as well. SubUrbia feels like kids I knew when I was that age but mostly kids I didn’t want to hang out with. Sure, I had some shitty and annoying friends but none of these characters are all that likable, except for the girl with major substance abuse issues. Steve Zahn, who I’ve always liked, was a guy I just wanted to punch.

Granted, the acting is damn superb. Each of these shitty kids was believable and they owned their parts. Besides, it isn’t a movie where you’re supposed to like anyone, it’s just a reflection of what lower middle class suburban youth were like in the mid-90s, stuck in a time between grunge music and boy bands. A time when the Internet was still in its infancy and wasn’t yet a mainstream social tool. Being close to this age, around the same time, makes it a film I can relate to.

Giovanni Ribisi showed that he was one of the best actors of his generation and the fact that he never became the star many people thought he would be, is pretty baffling. Nicky Katt, who plays the aggressive asshole of the group (and an aggressive asshole in Dazed and Confused) was dynamite. While he is barely in Dazed, he showed something real in that film and it is cool seeing him sort of expand on that role for SubUrbia. Amie Carey played and interesting character and she was one of the ones I nearly liked. Surprisingly, she hasn’t done much acting outside of this. Also, Parker Posey is in this and I enjoy her in just about everything.

The big standout for me though, was Ajay Naidu, most widely known as Samir from Office Space. His frustration with these shitty kids connects with the audience. The violence brought against him by the characters was sad. The fact that he genuinely wanted to see a few of them do something with their lives just added a lot of emotional weight to the tragedy of this story. As much as I enjoy Naidu in Office Space, this is really his greatest role that I have come across.

SubUrbia gets so real that it becomes uncomfortable. Fans of Dazed and Confused that want to check this out will probably be caught off guard by it, I was. It is a very different movie, even if it does cover some of the same territory. But where Dazed and Confused left you feeling really optimistic, SubUrbia is the stark contrast to that.

I liked SubUrbia, quite a lot, but it isn’t the sort of film you will want to re-watch on a rainy day like its endearing predecessor.

2 thoughts on “Film Review: SubUrbia (1996)

  1. Fantastic film if you ask me. Linklater actually adapted this from an Eric Bogosian play of the same name. What I loved about it is the characters drive the story and make it a great coming-of-age film set in very few locations. Glad you put this up here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really wanted to revisit it because I haven’t seen it in a really long time and it had an impact on me as a teenager. Also, I felt like it was kind of lost in the shuffle of Linklater’s other work.

      Like

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