SLC Punk! [retro review]

“The true anarchist position was in itself a strenuous job.”

The Scoop: 1998 R, Directed by James Merendino and starring Matthew Lillard, Michael A. Goorjian and Annabeth Gish

Tagline: God bless America…they’re going to need it.

Summary Capsule: Anarchist and pals in 80’s Salt Lake City face Mormons, Rednecks, the bad guy from Happy Gilmore, and the horrid prospect of growing up.

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Mike’s Rating: Ratings are for posers.
Mike’s Review: The American punk rocker is a funny animal. The desire to be a counter-culture social revolutionary by dyeing your hair blue and piercing parts of your body that should never be pierced is weird, but oddly enough overtakes most public-school suburbanites at one point or another. It’s natural to want to stand out when faced with the banality of your peers and the arrogance of those in authority. Of course, once you make the jump to being “hardcore” you find yourself in a whole other mess of social quandaries. After all, people are still people, and even alternative subcultures have pettiness and drama. Then there are the “posers”; the ones just trying to be cool and fit in with the non-conformists rather than stand out, perpetuating a fraud by putting on that leather jacket and the studded belt and wallet chain.

But then what happens when you realize that you’re more of a poser than you’d like to believe? When you realize that you don’t believe as strongly in the ideals you once touted so loudly, do you leave them behind or try to hold onto what you had? SLC Punk not only takes on that question, but does it in a really entertaining way.

Steve-O and Heroin Bob are two recent college graduates in the epicenter of the burgeoning punk-rock scene in Salt Lake City, 1985. As the movie starts they and their small tribe are dealing with being anarchists in a heavily Mormon-influenced town. They exist in a whirlwind of parties, drinking and punk shows, and often get into fights with Rednecks, Mods, Cops Neo-Nazis, pretty much everyone around them. That is to say: all is right with the world. All this begins to change, however, when Bob falls in love, and Steve-O begins to grow disillusioned with his lifestyle and faces a choice of staying in his anarchist ideal or going to Harvard Law.

The movie itself wisely has a chaotic, anarchistic feel to it. The story is told in a really non-linear way, with most of the movie happening in flashbacks and giving us insight into all the characters, who are also really nicely done. They’re fleshed out in a way that you don’t normally see in a movie. Not a single one-note character to be found. I especially liked this writing style for the character Mike (Jason Segal, who would go on to play Marshall in How I Met Your Mother), who you think is just going to be “the violent guy” until he turns around and says he want to go save the rain forest.

There are some weak points of course. The feel of the movie is very much late ’90s, and for a movie that’s supposed to be set in 1985, this can take you out of the story if you pay too much attention to it. Also you have to suspend your disbelief to the point where you believe that Matthew Lilliard could graduate college let alone be accepted to Harvard Law, and yes his performance is good, but that’s still asking a hell of a lot.

I grew up in Washington DC’s punk rock and hardcore scene, so it’s really easy for me to identify with this film on a lot of levels. It really does capture the feel of community you feel getting into an underground scene, from punk shows at rented churches, to parties after the show, to that feeling of being constantly judged for how you look, and that feeling of being part of something big. Sure it’s just hanging out with friends, but it’s also a movement. I’ve had the argument about whether punk rock was started in New York or London. I’ve known the joy of knocking a guy three times my size out of a mosh pit, and after a while I’ve wondered if I really was all that into it.

Overall it’s a good fun ride, even as it gets weightier and kinda depressing towards the end. There’s even a small bit of surprising depth that snuck in through the back door. If you’ve ever enjoyed getting into a fight (or wondered why some guys do), if you’ve ever found yourself banging your head to a Sex Pistols song, or even just toyed with the idea of dyeing or perhaps shaving your head, or piercing your eyebrow, give this movie a look.

The clean-cut youth of America.

Intermission!

  • The director appears quickly as one of the punks in the “Explanation of Fight” slide show, and as the character “Freaky Deaky” at the party at Chris’ house.
  • The scene in Stevo’s parents’ living room where they try to convince him to go to Harvard was shot in director’s father’s house.
  • Stevo was originally to have bleached blond hair. However, when getting the bleach job, the peroxide burned Matthew Lillard’s scalp, leaving a hideous mess. Dying his hair blue was a way of hiding it.
  • The ID shown during the state-run liquor store scene reveals that Stevo’s real name is Steve Levy.

Didja Notice?

  • In the flashback scene where Steve-O is talking to his parents, he’s obviously wearing a skullcap with a mohawk attached.
  • Shooter McGavin!
  • This flick is full of musical anachronisms: The flashback to 1976, where Steve-o and Bob are playing “The Trees” by Rush, released in 1978; The poser kid has an Operation Ivy patch, Op Ivy weren’t formed until 1987; The song “Rose Garden” by the Suicide Machines who formed in 1991, playing at the party; Steve-o wearing a Naked Raygun t-shirt with the cover of their last album “Raygun…Naked Raygun”, released in 1990
  • Dude, Mike is seriously hardcore…
  • Mark’s recounting of the plane crash is effing creepy
  • The “nuclear explosion” scene borrowed from Terminator 2
  • Don’t try to get rid of a stolen car in the great Salt Lake
  • How Napoleon really died

Groovy Quotes

Stevo: You see life is like that. We change, that’s all. You see, the guy I am now is not the guy I was then. If the guy I was then met the guy I am now he’d beat the $#!% out of me. Those are the facts.

Stevo: The true anarchist position was in itself a strenuous job.

Stevo: There’s nothing going on. That’s what I saw when I looked out over the city: nothing. How the Mormon settlers looked upon this valley and felt that it was the promised land is beyond me. I don’t know, maybe it looked different back then.

Stevo: You’re a Nazi!
Dad: Nazi, I’m Jewish, Steven, how can I be a Nazi?
Stevo: That’s the worst. Dad, look at this. What kinda, what kinda car is this?
Dad: That would be a Porshe.
Stevo: A Porshe, that you bought at a Volkswagen dealership. Volkswagen, right? “For the people.” Who designed it? Who made that possible, Let me give you a hint: Adolf Hitler.
Dad: IT’S JUST A CAR!

Liquor Store Man: Oh my God. Who let you boys out of the state institute? We’d better get you boys back in the hospital.

Mike: I wanna save the rain forests, y’know, somebody’s gotta fight for them, it’s just… [can’t seem to find the right word, so he slams the table instead]

Mark: That’s what’s wrong with you Americans, you’re always looking for pain.
Mike: Yeah well… it pains me to hear you say that, Mark, it really does.

Mark: SINK, YOU FOOL!

Stevo: I rest my case on this: In a country of lost souls rebellion comes hard. But in a religiously oppressive city, where half it’s population isn’t even of that religion, it comes like fire.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Rock and Roll High School
  • Empire Records
  • The Great Rock and Roll Swindle
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