SMITHEREENS(director: Susan Seidelman; screenwriters: Ron Nyswaner/Peter Askin/story by Mr. Nyswaner and Miss Seidelman; cinematographer: Chirine El Khadem; editor: Susan Seidelman; music: Glenn Mercer/Bill Million; cast: Susan Berman (Wren), Brad Rinn (Paul), Richard Hell (Eric), Nada Despotovich (Cecile), Roger Jett (Billy), Kitty Summerall (Blonde wife of Eric), Tom Cherwin (Mike), Pamela Speed (Terry), Robynne White (Landlady), D.J. O’Neill (Ed), Wolf Alan (Pimp), Edie Schecter (Christine); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Susan Seidelman; Blue Underground; 1982)
“Serves as a time capsule for NYC’s punk rock scene in the ’80s.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The is the auspicious film debut of Susan Seidelman (“Desperately Seeking Susan”/”She-Devil”/”Cookie”), a graduate of New York University’s film school, who offers a gritty realistic and hip version of the familiar tale about a girl coming to the big city to make a name for herself and having trouble navigating the landscape. The indie was made on a meager budget of $80,000, and was the first low-budget American independent to get a showing at Cannes.
The low-life Wren (Susan Berman) is a 19-year-old amoral worker in a Xerox copy center, who after burning her bridges with her New Jersey family moved to Manhattan’s East Village slum with ambitions to be a manager of a punk rock group. She finds herself stuck in a heavy going journey to survive, as she spends her days plastering wherever she can (the street and subways) photocopies of her face captioned with the phrase “Who Is This?” After getting the boot from her apartment for not paying rent the last four months she meets portrait artist nice guy Paul (Brad Rinn), who came from Montana and lives in a psychedelic painted van in a deserted lot in the lower East Side. Wren manages to break his heart by showing him up as a chump for caring about her, as she picks up another guy right in front of him and only goes to his van at times when she has no where else to sleep. That other guy Wren picked up is sleazy struggling rock musician Eric (Richard Hell), who made one record, that never sold, called Smithereens. The no-talent gal thinks she can become the vacuous rocker’s road manager and go with him to LA to live a life of luxury, but he turns out to be even more self-absorbed and a big user than she is and ends up dumping her after getting her to commit a crime and running off with the loot.
The film serves as a time capsule for NYC’s punk rock scene in the ’80s, and a testament to what a dud place the Peppermint Lounge was. It has great one-liners, such as our heroine saying “Every one’s a little weird these days, it’s normal.” Every character is either a loser, a hanger-on or a colorful weirdo except for the sincere Rinn character, who is a fish out water. The emptiness of their lives gives the film both its comedic and bleak moments, as Berman by the film’s climax manages to alienate everyone she meets and spirals even further down than from the film’s beginning. Seidelman caught a scene that no longer exists, and shows how destructive it really was when not falsely romanticized. It’s extremely well-done and acted, making things seem authentic and depressing.
REVIEWED ON 2/29/2008 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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