SLC Punk! just manages to rise above rival rebel youth films because of Matthew Lillard’s skillful performance as a likeable eighties punk with spiky blue hair and friends in need of Prozac prescriptions.
Once a D&D nerd, Stevo (Lillard) joins his compatriot Heroine Bob (Michael Goorjian) in what he claims is the only true punk organization in Salt Lake City, Utah: two young men, fresh from high school, and prone to wacky mood swings. The problem is Stevo and Bob are quite co-dependent, and as their friends start to think about careers and other life streams in or outside of their much-hated conservative city & state, they’re feeling a little directionless, which starts to erode their confidence as committed anarchists in a world where people just think they’re ridiculous.
Writer / director James Merendino doesn’t offer anything new to the genre, but there are some dynamic philosophical exchanges and monologues, and he gives Lillard plenty of space to extol observations as the punk life is starting to unwind. The film is told through Stevo’s narration, which begets little smash-cut flashbacks, and most characters are shown doing at least one extreme thing before they either bow out of the picture, or step away from the narrative.
Merendino’s pacing is energetic, and the editing style isn’t classic ADD, which ensures the actors have room to breathe onscreen. Secondary and tertiary characters – like Stevo’s corporate sell-out dad (Christopher McDonald) also have their moments, and it’s a lean film that manages to avoid maudlin melodrama by adding absurd humour at just the right juncture.
SLC Punk could be regarded as a variation of Brett Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero (1987) – parallels include a central tragic figure that forces the cliquish group to redefine themselves after posing and living pretentiously for the last while – but it’s never ugly or sadistic, and any violence borders on cartoon. Lillard always makes sure Stevo is well aware of the surrounding ironies, and small reactions allow his character remains three-dimensional.
Sony’s DVD features a sharp transfer with punchy surround sound, and includes a director & cast commentary and standard trailer gallery.
Matthew Lillard would direct his own version of rebellious youth in his film version of K.L. Going’s novel Fat Kid Rules the World [M] (2012).
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan