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Lost in Suburbia


Directed By Richard Linklater

Screenplay by Eric Bogosian, based on his play.

Starring Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn, Amie Carey, Kitt Brophy, Jonn Cherico, Samia Shoaib, Ajay Naidu, Keith Preusse, Eric Park, Nicky Katt, Dina Spybey, William Martin Hayes, Jayce Bartok, Bill Wise, Parker Posey, and M.J. Lin.

By Joel M. Rosenberg
Staff Reporter

I like carving out a niche of time - one night in the life of any story, where that little bit implies a bigger story," explained Richard Linklater, director of Dazed and Confused and Before Sunrise. His latest film, Suburbia, has this structure - 24 hours out of the lives of a bunch of screwed-up twentysomethings. The story is told with tremendous contempt for how Gen-Xers are treated, along with an acceptance that some of the treatment is deserved.

Set in Burnfield, U.S.A., a generic suburb, the movie opens (and closes) with random shots of strip malls and tract housing. Jeff (Giovanni Ribisi from My Two Dads) attends community college; hangs out with Tim (Nicky Katt), an Air Force dropout; and Buff (Steve Zahn), a high school friend who works at a pizza place. At night they hang out in the parking lot of the local convenience store, Circle A (the A stands for anarchy, Linklater says).

The night begins with Jeff's girlfriend Sooze (Amie Carey) and her friend Bee-Bee (Dina Spybey) showing up at the convenience lot to meet Pony (Jayce Bartok), the "one who made it out" rock star, who eventually shows up with publicist Erica (Parker Posey, from As the World Turns, Dazed). The story unfolds as Tim starts insulting the Pakistani couple who run the convenience store, Sooze starts looking to Pony instead of cynical, quick-witted Jeff for advice and guidance on life, and Bee-Bee goes back to her bottle, which is caused by, and causes, other problems.

This is the first time Linklater directed material that did not originate with him. Eric Bogosian, who also wrote Talk Radio and Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll, put the show on at Lincoln Center in summer of 1994, where Linklater saw it and thought it could make a good film. With Bogosian a big fan of Dazed, he thought Linklater the obvious choice for the job. And "sometimes the obvious choice is the right choice," Linklater said. When the timing was right, casting, funding, and rehearsal only took eight weeks, and the whole thing was shot in a "kind of a whirlwind" 22 days.

Even though Linklater didn't write it, Suburbia is another autobiographical work in Linklater's repitoire. Born in Houston, he started thinking the suburbs were creepy around age 17. "It's so much our culture, it seems so American. It is our culture, living out the American Dream this way, where the middle class tries to be like a sitcom. And yet, in this view of suburbia, no sitcom is to be found anywhere. Instead, what's presented is the more negative, scary view of how brilliant people as great as anyone else can have their lives come to a dead end, how so many post-adolescents end up hanging out at the mall, drinking, and doing nothing. Suburbia is inhabited by these individuals, decent people just trying to get through the day. It's about overcoming fear and whatever circumstances you find yourself in to become the best person you could be, to realize your potential - wherever you're starting from. These people just happen to be starting from Burnfield."

The cast is dynamic and fresh, and interact well. Ribisi plays the trying-to-save-the-world-without-any-direction role beautifully, spouting out theories about how things should be and bitching about the way things are, the type of person who annoys his friends by continuing preaching even after everyone has agreed with him. Zahn is the comic relief, the slapstick funnyman and wild drunk who steals lawn gnomes and then cuddles with them. Carey's feminist performance art mixes well with her starry-eyed dreams of working with Pony, and Bartok's Pony is the geek who makes it big, his Hootie-esque fame making some of the cast love him and some hate him, a divide which Bartok handles nicely.

Linklater and Bogosian mirror their own use of art as an outlet in giving the people in the film their own outlets, whether it be music, theater, or social theorization. Both are dissidents, and this is reflected in their characters. Linklater traces this attitude back to conversations he had as a teenager with his uncle, a 60s radical from California.

"Suburbia is seen as dark and tragic, but I like the struggle they're going through. Life is a struggle - that's not a bad thing. Everyone wants to live in this antiseptic world where everything's taken care of, you get what you want but you don't have to work hard enough to get it. You just expect rewards or something."