This Linklater Movie Was Goals Before #Goals
I truly believe the best movies were made in the nineties (Swingers, Fight Club, 3 Ninjas, Empire Records. Don’t @ me), the best bands put out their best albums in the nineties (Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Wu-Tang, Oasis, ahem), and that nothing new will ever be as good as the things I first discovered as a kid. Sure, this is likely because I was a highly impressionable teenager who grew into an extremely loyal adult. But all you have to do is look at what’s coming back around, or never left in the first place, to realize just how good we had it.
In the world of 2018, there’s SO much ephemera to sift through on a daily basis. We’re inundated just by waking up and checking our phones. And we’re constantly casually loving everything. We’re double-tapping it all. But before you could define yourself by how you curated your feed, you did so by how you curated your stuff: the band T-shirts you wore, the books you kept on your nightstand, the CDs in your Case Logic (remember those?!). Whether it’s nineties rave culture fashion recently co-opted and deconstructed by Virgil Abloh, or a TV reboot of Will & Grace, or a Smashing Pumpkins 30th anniversary reunion tour—clearly, the things we loved then stick with us. We can’t shake them, and we don’t want to.
Case in point, Richard Linklater’s 1996 movie, SubUrbia. It’s based on a stage play by the same name, written by Eric Bogosian. Starring Giovanni Ribisi (swoon), Parker Posey (double swoon), Steve Zahn, Nicky Katt and a handful of others, the movie takes place over the course of one night in the middle of nowhere, USA. The characters are smart-alecky twenty-nothings trying to figure it out, just like we all did. Except they’re wearing cooler clothes, listening to cooler music, and smoking much less powerful pot. Sure, we all adore Dazed and Confused, the Before Sunrise series and just about everything else Linklater’s ever done (Everbody Wants Some was kinda boring, though, right?), but very few gives SubUrbia the praise it’s due. Put it this way: if I ever met Parker Posey, or Giovanni Ribisi, I wouldn’t ask about Boiler Room, or strike up a conversation about Best in Show. I’d go for the jugular of SubUrbia.
The movie is about reconciling your past—even if the past means only the last few years since you graduated high school—and making seemingly life-altering decisions about your future. It’s the classic Linklater hangout, well worth the movie’s two-hour run time. When a super successful classmate, Jayce Bartok’s Pony (how great of a name is that?!) returns home to the suburbs of Burnfield after a year touring the world with his rock band, it causes his old friends to take stock of their lives and where they want to go—or don’t. Over the course one night, plans are made and then dashed just as quickly. Beers are drained. Egos are checked. Boomboxes are blasted. Someone throws a sparerib. Kids grow up—kind of. Fourteen year-old me sat there, riveted. No matter how much I grew up, I’d never be as cool as these kids.
I first discovered SubUrbia while staying at my great-grandmother’s NYC apartment in 1997, when I was twelve years old. She took me to Blockbuster Video on 80th street. I was immediately struck by the film’s VHS box cover. Giovanni. Steve Zahn. Sooze, with her punky spikes. Fresh off of seeing Empire Records, the movie’s band-of-misfits cover art immediately called to me. So, I rented it and watched it in my grandmother’s bedroom while she napped.
I was immediately struck by the clothes. They were awesome. The characters dressed like my friends: baggy jeans, skater tees, spiky hair. They cursed! Their devil-may-care banter was funny and irreverent! They sounded like adults! Most of all, they lived for the moment, doing and saying whatever they wanted. Oh, and the music! What a soundtrack. Beck. Sonic Youth. The Flaming Lips! As a little shit wannabe punk who’d recently started listening to the Sex Pistols upon first viewing, it all made perfect sense. It’s like Tim says to Jeff near the film’s climax, “There’s really only one clear answer. Anarchy, my friend.” To me, that just meant doing whatever you wanted, parents and school be damned… even if what you wanted was as easy as staying up all night listening to music with your friends. When you’re a teenager hanging out with your first posse, who could possibly imagine anything better?
To this day, SubUrbia reminds me of the young, impressionable kid that I was and wanted to be—the one wearing an oversized Green Day shirt and JNCO jeans, watching an R-rated movie, with a hidden pack of cigarettes in my backpack. The memory of that initial viewing still brings a smile to my face. For me, the movie is inextricably linked with certain first-hand teenage experiences: all-night sleepovers spent smoking cloves, drinking beers, blowing pot-smoke out the bathroom window at a friend’s house, sneaking out to go to McDonalds… those were my own little Linklater hangs. SubUrbia reminds me, and maybe you, of that sassy kid who wanted nothing more than an entire night at his disposal.
[Writer’s Note: SubUrbia is hard to find. It was never released on DVD. It’s not on Netflix, or even iTunes. You can’t rent it! To watch it in full, you have to purchase it for $17.99 on Amazon Prime. You have to make the decision to own it outright. For me, the choice was a nostalgic no-brainer. For you, an investment worthwhile. That, or you can watch it in twelve minute installments for free on YouTube with Spanish subtitles.]