Review by Michael Jacobson
Matthew Lillard, Michael Goorjian, Annabeth Gish, Devon Sawa
Director: James Merendino
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1, 16x9 Enhanced
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: October 19, 1999
A story about two punk rockers living in Salt Lake City,
the most conservative town in the United States?
That definitely merits an A+ for a premise. I almost expected the film to start off with the voice of the
late Allen Funt saying, “We thought it would be funny if…”
But SLC Punk is
more than a great premise. It’s
ferociously fast and funny filmmaking, with a kinetic visual style, a terrific
cast, and an energy level few films attain, much less sustain.
I haven’t laughed this hard since I saw Clerks
back in 1994. This movie is
every bit as funny…and has a lot more to say in the margins.
He probably won’t get an Oscar nomination, but trust
me…Matthew Lillard turns in one of the finest performances of the year as
Stevo, the protagonist/narrator/tour guide of the film. Much of the film’s energy depends on his work, and he
attacks the material with unbridled passion, humor, and realism…and even a
little warmth and sweetness. Stevo
has surprisingly managed to graduate from college, but has decided that he
won’t submit to “the system”, so he and his best friend, Heroin Bob (Goorjian)
live the punk rockers’ life of chaos and anarchy, in a never ending search for
easy sex, cold beer and good drugs on the streets of the Mormons’ home city.
(I should point out a juicy bit of irony…despite his name, Heroin Bob
doesn’t take drugs, and actually has a phobia about needles).
The punk philosophy is constantly laid down and explained
by Stevo, who frequently talks right to the camera, or steps outside of his own
scenes to offer exposition. These
are some of the funniest moments captured on film this year.
He even introduces the audience to all his friends, not all of whom are
punks, but each has a humorous background story or two that we get to see in
flashback form. That’s part of
what’s so great about this film…it skips from present to past and back
again, sometimes going all the way back to childhood, with absolutely no sense
of respect for linear time. It’s never hard to follow, but it feels like a blatant
rebellion against conventional movie making.
Which, of course, given the subject matter, is perfect.
But the movie isn’t really a celebration of anarchy.
I look at Stevo like a punk version of Holden Caulfield.
His blue hair and chains are not as much about rebellion as he believes,
but about fear…the fear all young people have about fitting in.
He sees his father, a one time frequenter of Woodstock with long hair and
a hippie protestor against the war. Now,
he’s a successful lawyer, living in a conservative town.
“I didn’t sell out, I bought in,” he protests to his son.
And Stevo looks at his father as though he simply lost something along
We all rebel in our own way at that age, but eventually, we
have to grow up enough to realize that there are only two ways of going about
life…either somehow make some kind of peace with the system you distrust and
fear, or wither away into nothingness. Anarchy
is merely a philosophy, Stevo eventually begins to learn.
It’s not much of a way of life. And
maybe, just maybe the best way to affect change is from within the system
instead of outside of it. That’s
the heart of the movie in a nutshell.
But in spite of a serious message that’s handled
truthfully and with respect, the best part about the movie is the comedy.
There are so many gems in the film that it would take pages to list them
all, most of them involving Stevo’s narration and explanations of how things
work in the world as he perceives them. His
observations are sharp, though sometimes amusingly misguided.
He looks upon falling in love as a punishment, for one.
His explanation of why we fight, complete with visuals.
And his belief that Salt Lake City is the perfect place for him to be,
despite his hatred for it. You
don’t go to New York or other places where the movement is in full swing to
rebel, he pontificates. You go
where the people are conservative and tightly wound, where you stick out like a
sore thumb. In other words, if you want to rebel, be in a place where you
have something to rebel against.
Another favorite of mine involves one of his friends,
played by Devon Sawa, a one time fellow punk who’s become a beggar on the
street. He laments a sad tale about
how he can’t get a job, but in a flashback sequence, we see him show up for
his interview wearing a shirt with an expletive on the front, and cursing out
the manager with full punk attitude. It
was hysterical, because at the heart of it, this kid honestly had no idea why he
couldn’t find work.
By the time it was all over, I fully realized I had just
seen a remarkable and adventurous film, one that wasn’t afraid to take risks,
and as such, easily ranks amongst the year’s best. This is simply funny, fast, fresh entertainment.
And despite the Salt Lake City setting, there’s not one polygamy joke
in the entire film. Now THAT’S refreshing.
Despite being a lower budgeted film, this disc looks and sounds terrific. Often, the most colorful images on screen are the characters, and they are often shown against more bland and drab backgrounds…obviously for visual symbolism…but the contrasts work nicely, and all images are sharp and clear, with good coloring. Even darker scenes, like the punk clubs, are detailed and crisp.
The 5.1 soundtrack is quite good, too, particularly given
the number of speaker shaking punk anthems that help drive the story.
There's not much use of the surrounds, but the subwoofer stays plenty busy
delivering the bottom end to the rock music!
The disc contains a good commentary with the director and
two stars, some trailers, an on screen comic book of SLC Punk, and an isolated music score audio track.
SLC Punk is razor
sharp, smart, and completely hilarious. It’s
an adventurous, innovative film that mixes style and substance seamlessly to
create a rapid fire, energetic and totally enthralling motion picture
experience. It’s easily one of
the best films of the year, and for those who are in the mood for a full frontal
comedic assault, makes for a terrific and adventurous night’s entertainment.