subUrbia (1996)

subUrbia (1996) – I took a stagecraft class this past semester and the final assignment was to design and build a model for a set for a play. I decided to use gthe opportunity to check out a playwright I had heard about but who I have never read/seen, Eric Bogosian (though I have seen him as an actor in movies like Wonderland and whichever Law & Order he was on). I mainly picked subUrbia for the fact that it is entirely set in one location, the front of a convenience story. Reading the script, I connected with Bogosian’s tale of dissatisfied and aimless twenty-somethings (largely as a dissatisfied and aimless 20-something myself). Bogosian’s “gen-X version of The Iceman Cometh” (his words) reached me. After I was done with my set, I decided to watch the movie. It was directed by Richard Linklater who did several excellent movies like Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, Before Sunrise & its sequel Before Sunset (two of my all-time favorites), A Scanner Darkly, and the similarly play-based Tape. I was looking forward to it.

The plot focuses on Jeff (Giovanni Ribisi), a guy who almost makes his aimlessness a point of pride. Jeff girlfriend is Sooze (Amie Carey), an aspiring artist with dreams of leaving their small Texas town for New York. Jeff best friends are Tim (Nicky Katt), a somewhat disgruntles Air Force veteran and Buff (Steve Zahn), who is kind of a doofus (like most of Zahn’s roles). Sooze’s best friend is Bee Bee (Dina Spybey), a recently sober addict who is perpetually being ignored. They all hang out in front of a convenience store, much to the consternation of the store’s owner Nazeer (Ajay Naidu) and his sister (Samia Shoaib). The gang is meeting up with their high school classmate Pony (Jayce Bartok), a successful musician who is swinging back through his hometown along with his publicist (Parker Posey, because this is a 90s indie movie). Being confronted with the success of their former classmate forces the gang to confront the failures of their own lives. Drama ensues.

The problem with subUrbia is not in the writing. It’s as good on the screen as it is on the stage. The problem is that the direction ends up feeling somewhat stage-y, a common problem with stage-to-screen adaptations. It’s not like the whole movie is in front of the store (as in the play). The film features other locations like Pony’s limo, Jeff’s house, a Chinese restaurant, and the titular suburbs. None of this really opens the story up though. The movie is mostly well-cast, though Carey appears older than her character is supposed to be, and the actors really commit to their roles. I don’t know if I bought Bartok as a rock star though. The movie is not bad and worth seeing if you’re a fan of Bogosian or Linklater but it’s nothing special. Some plays are just better off staying on the stage.

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