Title: SLC Punk! (1998)
Director: James Merendino
Cast: Matthew Lillard, Michael A. Goorjian, Christopher McDonald, Devon Sawa, Jason Segel, James Duval
SLC Punk! attempts to explain what living the Punk lifestyle and being an Anarchist is all about. It takes you to the shows and the parties and the mayhem filled nights and all the stories and dramas behind them. It achieves this by having its main character -a Punk Rocker and Anarchist named Steve-O- break the fourth wall and speak directly at us, explaining to us the ins and outs of the anarchist/punk lifestyle. Kind of like the way that Ferris Bueller would show us how to “fake out parents” in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). In SLC Punk! we have Matthew Lillard, not Matthew Broderick taking us on a tour of the Punk Rock World. It deconstructs it, analyzing what’s bullshit and what isn’t, the benefits and the downsides. Just what is Punk Rock? Is it the music? Is that what drives it? Is it the clothes you wear? Your hair style? Is it just a state of mind?
On SLC Punk! we follow Steve-O through the landscape of Salt Lake City Utah’s Punk scene. We meet his friends, we go with him to a wild and crazy punk show, we go with him to a house party, we see the drugs they take, the booze they over do and we see them not give a fuck. Basically, these are a group of kids, who say they are anarchists, who say they hate the status quo, who say they hate posers, yet their actions sometimes contradict them. Steve-O, the main character in the film, is going through an existential dilemma, and we go on the ride with the guy. He is questioning everything, even himself. He is a character who unlike 80% of humanity, is fully awake, so, what comes next?
Punks have always been portrayed as stupid, angry, and lazy. In films, they are always depicted as alcoholics, drug addicts, with nothing better to do than sniff some glue, or break a couple of windshields with a bat. Though this depiction of the punk rock might be a generalization, I have to admit that for the most part, this portrayal is dead on. I mean, I was part of the Puerto Rican Punk scene back when it was thriving, and this is pretty much how it went down. I didn’t dress like a punk, but I went to the shows, I hung out, and as I always do, I analyzed human behavior, I was a little bit like Steve-O in many ways, always observing and commenting. The impression I got from my observations of the punk scene during the early 00’s was that most of these kids were pissed off at the world; they knew the world was upside down and they hated that fact with a passion. And so, the mentality was “fuck the world, let’s party and burn ourselves out while we’re young!” The mentality was also, no job, no money and no plans for the future, a “let the chips fall where they may” stance on life. The angry nature of punk music only fueled the anger and the discontent in the air. I get the punk scene and I understand where the anger comes from, we live in a pretty messed up world, being angry at it seems like a natural reaction. And I love the energy in these shows, I still go to them for this very same reason, I want to see people reacting to the world! At times the whole thing feels cathartic. The mosh pits, the head banging, the beer flying through the air, the screaming; sometimes these shows feel like going to the church of Punk Rock in which the lead singer preaches it like it is and the audience jumps and screams as if the Holy Spirit has possessed them! The way I see it, we need to vent out that anger and frustration, punk rock gives you away to do that because at the heart of punk rock beats with anger and rebellion. The punk scene still exists in Puerto Rico, only not as intensely as I remember it. I guess the Punks grew up, got jobs…they joined the system after all.
And that’s why I enjoyed SLC Punk! so much, it feels genuine. While the film can be seen as a homage to what being a Punk is all about (warts and all) it also criticizes the Punk lifestyle and sees many faults in it. The film goes to great lengths to identify the ‘posers’, the fakes that aren’t really punk, they just want to look cool. It also asks the question, should being angry be the only thing that you do? Or can you do more than that? What I got from the film was that yes, the punk/anarchist lifestyle is directly entwined with the music, because the music, speaks about the frustrations and concerns of the world we live in. In many ways, Punks are awake and conscious about many of the harsh realities of the world we live in, the injustices, this is where the anger stems from, which is something I like about the whole thing, these are characters that don’t like to take things for granted, they question, they fight, they protest. Matthew Lillard’s Steve-O is an angry young dude, who hates his town, hates his parents, but loves his friends, loves to party, he is basically a guy looking for happiness in a very unhappy world. But he’s going through a process. He analyzes everything; he is always being inquisitive, always questioning things. Actually, there’s this cool moment when he states “I am wide awake!” I love how he is constantly questioning himself. Why am I who I am? Where am I in life? How can I bring forth some true change to this world and how can I go about it? I like the fact that Steve-O is an individual who is a punk rocker, an anarchists, but is intelligent enough to question his own beliefs, which is something we should all stop and do at various stages of our lives.
SLC Punk! Functions in the same way that Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996) does, it’s the kind of film that’s about a bunch of messed up dudes and dudettes, some do lots of drugs, some are inclined towards violence, some are crazier than others, some are gonna die, some are going to choose life, grow up and change. Because at the end of the day, no matter how punk rock you are, you’re gonna have to face the facts that you have to eat, you have to have a place to live, you have to find some sort of way to give something to society and the only way to do that is to make some money, somehow. Matthew Lillard by the way, turns in a good performance, this is probably the role for which he will be most remembered by, he comes off as likable, and there’s actually a scene where the dude got to me with his performance. Interesting how the proposed sequel will be called Punk’s Dead. I don’t know if it will ever get made or not, but it would sure be interesting to see where these characters have gone to after all these years. Did they mature? Did they join the system? Did they end up dead in a ditch somewhere? Did they leave Punk rock behind or is it still a part of their lives? James Merendino, the director behind SLC Punk!, mentions that the sequel will have all the previous actors reprising their roles. Merendino says he owes it to the fans of SLC Punk! To do a worthy sequel, I’m looking forward to seeing where Steve-O has ended up in his post punk years.
Rating: 4 out of 5