Michael A. Goorjian and Matthew Lillard star in SLC PUNK!, directed by James Merendino for Sony Pictures Classics.

SLC Punk! (1998, James Merendino)

SLC Punk! is controlled chaos. Or chaotic control. Director Merendino is incredibly careful about everything–how he uses crane shots to open up the low budgeted film, how he and Esther P. Russell cut scenes, which flashback footage goes where, how protagonist Matthew Lillard’s narration works (hint: it’s in an Austenian sense), how the film fits together. SLC runs just over ninety minutes and the first twenty-five of them are precisely layered flashbacks and flash forwards. Merendino’s meticulous.

But the secret of SLC Punk! isn’t how its not really an extreme comedy or how its Jane Austen with eighties punks, it’s the film’s sincerity. Merendino structures the film–and Lillard’s character and performance–to force an investment and an interest from the viewer. SLC isn’t a passive viewing experience; it isn’t set up to function as one.

The film gets serious once Merendino runs out of fast jokes–not even cheap ones, just fast ones. At the same time, Lillard gets serious too, only since he’s narrating in the past tense, Merendino’s forcing an examination of the previous (comedically played) events. The film’s final flashback, ostensibly promising the great reveal, instead just further shows Merendino’s sincerity and his dedication to it.

Great performances all over–Lillard, Michael A. Goorjian as his best friend and alter ego, then Jason Segel, Adam Pascal, Til Schweiger as their sidekicks. Merendino’s enthusiastic about the actors and in how he showcases them.

SLC Punk! is excellent. Merendino, Lillard and Goorjian do outstanding work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Merendino; director of photography, Greg Littlewood; edited by Esther P. Russell; production designer, Charlotte Malmlöf; produced by Sam Maydew and Peter Ward; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Matthew Lillard (Stevo), Michael A. Goorjian (Bob), Annabeth Gish (Trish), Jennifer Lien (Sandy), Jason Segel (Mike), Adam Pascal (Eddie), Til Schweiger (Mark), James Duval (John the Mod), Devon Sawa (Sean), Summer Phoenix (Brandy) and Christopher McDonald (Stevo’s Dad).


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