SLC Punk! Review
By Tony Jenkins
By Tony Jenkins
Every once in a while a quintessential, instant cult classic film comes along that changes the scene of things and leaves an impact. In 1998, one such film would be made. Opening up the 1999 Sundance Film Festival was SLC Punk!, writer/director James Merendino’s somewhat autobiographical flick based around his time on the streets and the people he knew. At the height of pop punk popularity SLC Punk! came along at just the right time to be dropped like an atom bomb on punks old and new alike. One thing is for certain, love it or hate it, fifteen years after its debut SLC Punk! is very much here to stay and still influencing punks. That’s saying something. It’s like it’s a film that’s too tough to die!
Set against the backdrop of 1985 Salt Lake City, we’re given a stage dive into the lives of a few anarcho-punks and their existence and struggle against a religiously oppressive city and against the very machinations of government, society and even family living. SLC Punk! is one of Matthew Lillard’s titular roles by far as main character and narrator Stevo, portraying one half of the “first two punks, the last two punks” alongside Michael A. Goorjian as Heroin Bob, bouncing souls lost in the urban jungle just like anyone else. Lillard’s work through his fourth wall acknowledging speeches and monologues really top off things here, giving us the sense that we’re practically there; like we just met Stevo and Bob at a show and we’re just being dragged along. Michael brings intensity to the screen in the form of Bob, an ironically nicknamed misfit chalk full of philosophy and an almost hidden, deathly silent maelstrom of angst. These two set against support characters Sean played by none other than Devon Sawa, Annabeth Gish as the lovely and somewhat esoteric Trish and even an appearance by Christopher McDonald as Stevo’s dad provide us with an overall kick ass cast and just a few characters that really bring the story to life and in no small way each play their part towards the overall picture. Definitely some great work in the acting department here.
and having no money, no job, no plans for the future; the true anarchist position was in itself a strenuous job.” Throughout the first act of the film we’re of course given our character introductions, with whom you’ll quickly identify with. But more than that, we’re given a quick crash course on what it’s like to live as an anarchist punk in the SLC. Apparently it’s a near nihilistic existence of living in the right here, right now because there’s no future; not a thing to look forward to, nothing to strive to change, no reason to really exist. You just kind of do, stuck in the natural or perhaps unnatural order of things depending on how you look at it. It really kind of paints a bleak picture, but as we see through their eyes, Stevo and Bob don’t accept the terms of the cards they've been dealt and manage to make do just fine on their own, often through the use of alcohol, drugs and parties. Such is the life of an SLC punk.
Central themes to the heart of SLC Punk lie around the journey of self-exploration, initial doubts and eventual questioning of one’s chosen lifestyle, with additional touching upon the facet of love and the effects it can have on one’s mind and actions. Born rich kid and college graduate Stevo over time begins to ask himself about the bearings of leading his punk life and where it’s actually leading him. If there’s no future to it, what’s the point? A practical discarding of the punk life magically solves everything? Apparently, yes. But it’s a coming of age film that serves to make one think and ask questions. You won’t agree with everything you see and hear in the film, but that’s part of the proud diversity of the punk scene anyway.
On the flip side of things our other half of the duo in the form of lovable Bob is just another guy seeking out his happiness and doing the best he can with what he’s been given; especially with his girlfriend Trish. With a drunk and paranoid father that even attempts to shoot him and Stevo with a shotgun visiting him on his birthday, it’s no wonder Bob has that sort of quiet rage about him. Bob is definitely just your regular guy, but with a certain charisma in his sense of character that you don’t see much on screen in films of this type, in that comedic drama sense. Then again, the shooting style and presentation of the film itself really aren't found much anymore either. Shame. Back on track real quick, Bob’s like that one punk friend everyone wishes they had; the dude’s just so real about things and straight forward about it that you can just trust his honesty and sincerity. How does Bob sum up life? “It’s a crazy fucked up world, and we’re all just barely floating along, waiting for somebody that can walk on water!”
One of the more pivotal points of the film really comes in our last act with introduction of character Brandy. Go figure that the one that speaks with most authority on the concept of rebellion is from the outside and not even a punk at all, but instead another rich kid in her own right, equipped with a mind all her own expressed on her terms. She really kind of hammers it to Stevo, and actually speaks something true about some within the punk community at large outside the film, speaking on the idea one has to look and dress or fit some sort of part to actually be punk.
SLC Punk! has and does it all. It breaks the fourth wall, it’s funny, campy, it has its serious moments and it covers generally anything one could ask about in a general Punk 101 sort of way. No trashcan not kicked over, no dumpster not dived. If you want my honest opinion, and I know you do, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this right now or wouldn't be at this point in my review; SLC Punk! is on my list of favorite films easily for the fact that I feel it makes you think. The first time I watched it, besides a slight dumbfounded look on my face at the end wondering that “What did I just hear” sort of thing; I found myself reflecting upon Stevo’s character and his transformation from act two on. What made him change? I know it’s just a movie, but why does he make some good points? Why is Brandy onto something here and why did it affect him so?
Not that this film will shake your faith in punk or anything like that, but it can definitely make you want to examine yourself and the things you've got going on. I like a film that has depth to it past the surface, and beyond the goofiness and fun times this film has, its really got some underlying value for sure. I like being made to think by a movie, but only if it’s got a theme to make me really delve into and let kinda thrash around in my mind for a bit. If you haven’t already seen SLC Punk!, find a way to do so immediately after reading this. Rent it, order it, borrow it from a friend or if you must, watch it online. Then, once you've fallen in love with the film upon your first watch like I’m thinking you will, join up with James and the page Punk’s Dead on Facebook and elsewhere so you can geared up for the *spoiler* SEQUEL! That’s right, Punk’s Dead will be bringing back some of the cast from this original romper stomper of a mosh pit to focus on things in the aftermath of it all, eighteen years later. This ought to be good. Anyway, enough of my rambling, finish this edition of the Independent Punk Zine and get on finding out how to catch this movie. You won’t regret it, and if you don't you’re a poser! “Only posers die!” Tony out.