MOVIE REVIEW | SubUrbia (1996)


“Oh man, I feel good. Whoo! I feel good ‘cuz I’m hangin’ out with you guys, man. You know? I mean, I forgot what it was like to just hang out!”

I just realised something about Richard Linklater.  As a story teller and film maker, he’s obsessed with those seemingly small events that perfectly sum up a very specific moment in time, while somehow representing something bigger.  Slacker, Dazed and Confused and the Before trilogy all take place in a matter of mere hours, usually overnight.  And as grand as the idea behind Boyhood was, those 12 years of filming still ultimately come down a collection of small moments.

It also means that a lot of Linklater movies are intrinsically linked to when they were shot.  He doesn’t just avoid his movies looking and sounding like the era they were shot in, he embraces it, he heightens it, he exploits it.  And somehow, the results is never a movie that seems dated, they always just seem like a little time capsules.  And even if IMDB didn’t list the year of production next to every movie title, there’d be no mistaking the 90s world of SubUrbia.

Too old for high school, too unmotivated for college or a job with an actual future, Jeff (Giovanni Ribisi)  is happy to spend his nights with his wacky best friend Buff (Steve Zahn), and wannebe rebel, bad boy Tim (Nicky Katt) drinking, smoking and generally wasting time outside their local 7/11 in small town Texas.  The only problem is, Jeff’s girlfriend (Amie Carey as Sooze) wants more, and she’s willing to pursue it.

With talks of applying to art school in New York, Sooze only reminds Jeff of how little purpose his life has.   Things are only escalated when Pony (Jayce Bartock) returns to town.  Former class geek, Pony is now a successful musician, with a video on MTV on and everything.  And for Jeff, Buff, Tim and Sooze, that means varying degrees of jealousy, admiration, disgust and inspiration.

Thematically, it’s easy to see that SubUrbia is a Richard Linklater movie.  He loves coming of age stories about people who would rather do anything than come of age.  But on a technical level, I was surprised to see where it falls in his filmography.  To me, it looks like his first studio movie after the indie success of Slacker.  The camera work is a little obvious, the pacing is all over the shop and it’s just not all that well made.  So to see that it came after Dazed and Confused was a real surprise.

I’ve never understood the enduring love that Dazed and Confused gets.  As a story, it’s perfectly fine, but nothing special.  But I can recognise that as a technical film making exercise, it’s almost infallible.  It looks fantatsic, it flows well and it’s amazing that any director could make that so early in their career.  SubUribia, on the other hand, is a clunky step back.  With the hindsight of Linklater’s career in the decades since, that doesn’t really matter.  But at the time, I could imagine fans of Dazed wondering if that movie was just a fluke.

Dicky Link makes movies about those seemingly small events that perfectly sum up a very specific moment in time, while somehow representing something bigger.  And while SubUrbia may not do it on the same sublime level of so many other movies to his name, you’d be hard pressed to find a more genuine 90s movie than this.  It captured a moment in time, warts and all, but still with real affection.  And it never tires to have any sort of cool detachment.  This movie’s right there in the thick of it, warts and all as well.

Directed By – Richard Linklater
Written By – Eric Bogosian

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