Suburbia (1983)


 Tired of dealing with his alcoholic mom, a teenager runs away from home and joins a group of homless kids who are immersed in the punk culture.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“We’re talking about a bunch of sickos, mental rejects running wild in our streets”

 I was a teenager when I watched Penelope Spheeris’s ‎punxploitation cult classic Suburbia for the first time, so its strong anti-establishment vibe appealed to me a great deal. Rewatching the movie as an adult made me realize that I had missed much of the nuance of this unquestionably odd Roger Coman production.

Soon after making a documentary about the punk rock scene in L.A., California, The Decline Of Western Civilization (1981), filmmaker Spheeris began working on Suburbia, a fictional movie where she intended to explore this sub-culture further. Spheeris initially had trouble getting the project off the ground.

Spheeris found a kindred spirit in producer Corman, a true maverick who operated on the outskirts of mainstream cinema. Corman, who was known for employing a large amount of women at a time when the industry was dominated by men, decided to take a chance on Spheeris. Corman pretty much left Spheeris to her own devices, and the end result is one of the most chilling depictions of youth alienation I’ve ever seen.

Despite showing genuine compassion for outcasts, Suburbia struck me as being brutally honest about the disadvantages of nonconformity. Outwardly, the movie is a frontal attack on economic complacency and traditional values. On further reflection, though, this is as hard on the homless kids as it is on mainstream society.

Even though it’s clear that director Spheeris’s sympathies lie with the kids, she never allows her personal feelings to sugarcoat the situations. Some runaway kids are trying to escape all kinds of abuse at home. Some kids are just plain sociopaths. There is also plenty of racism, homophobia, and misogyny among these misfits.

Moreover, Spheeris doesn’t shy away from presenting the chaos that ensue when young people decide to live together with no adult supervision, no rules. Rebellion is never romanticized. On the contrary, Suburbia shows us that life as a rebel might seem cool at first glance, but you can be sure that it isn’t a bed of roses.

Most of the homless kids were played by real street kids, so the acting in the movie isn’t all that good. But I think Spheeris was correct in thinking that in a movie like this one, authenticity was more important than acting ability. There is a sadness in their faces that’s unsettling because it’s so real. While most kids went back to their street lives, some of them, like Chris Pedersen (The Night of the Comet) and “Flea” (from the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers), were able to continue their showbiz careers.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

I’m a typical ’80s latchkey kid who grew up in one of those suburban neighborhoods you see in an old John Hughes movie. Maybe that’s why Suburbia has always held a fascination for me. It gives me a peek into a world I know nothing about. Although Suburbia can be hard to watch at times, it’s an undeniably powerful study of both youth alienation and the punk culture in the early ’80s. Color, 94 minutes, Rated R.

This is my contribution to The Corman-Verse Blogathon, hosted by RealWeegieMidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis.

9 responses to “Suburbia (1983)

  1. Thanks for bringing this entry to the blogathon and both your entries have been surprising entries and casts in Corman’s films, and as always enjoy reading these unique posts. Hope you can join my new blogathon with more of the same Eric in the Other Than a Bond Girl blogathon.

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  2. Pingback: BLOGATHON… A Last Trip into the (Roger) Cormanverse Blogathon – Realweegiemidget Reviews Films TV Books and more·

  3. Excellent review! It’s been a while since, I’ve seen this, but I remember enjoying it (if “enjoy” the correct word). I especially like Spheeris’ raw, unfiltered approach before she went Hollywood. Thanks again for joining the blogathon!

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    • Spheeris wasted her talents on crap like The Beverly Hillbillies and The Little Rascals. I guess it’s hard to turn down a nice paycheck. But we’ll always have Suburbia, an uncompromisingly downbeat piece of work.

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  4. I kind of remember this movie–it’s been a while for me too. I definitely did NOT remember that the kids were actual street kids and they just kind of floated back to their unanchored lives after that. How very sad. We were just watching Obi-Wan Kenobi tonight (hubby’s a Star Wars freak, not me, lol) and Flea was in it! I think hubby knows him from Red Hot Chile Peppers but I’m not sure he knew about this homeless business. Nice review.

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    • What I coincidence! I just watched the Obi-Wan series (what did hubby think? I was so disappointed!), and I was surprised to see Flea as a baddie — if he can go Hollywood, anyone can! LOL!

      BTW, Spheeris’s Decline of Western Civilization Part III explained what happened to the homless kids (aka gutter punk) that got stuck in a dead culture, and it’s very sad indeed.

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  5. I’m sorry to hear about the kids and some kind of bleak continuance for them. I’ll check out the docu when/if I can but dread to hear what ended up happening with a lot of them.
    As for Obi-Wan, yeah, we’re still on the fence with it. Actually, I don’t really care, lol, it’s hubby’s thing. But he doesn’t seem overly thrilled. I mean, it does seem like sooner or later Star Wars has to die some kind of dignified death…. doesn’t it? But it just keeps going and going….!

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