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SUBURBIA (aka: THE WILD SIDE) (director/writer: Penelope Spheeris; cinematographer: Tim Suhrstedt; editors: Ross Albert/Michael Oleksinki; music: Alex Gibson; cast: Chris Pedersen (Jack Diddley), Bill Coyne (Evan Johnson), Jennifer Clay (Sheila), Timothy O’Brien (Skinner), Wade Walston (Joe Schmo), Flea (Razzle), Timothy Eric O’Brien (Tom, skinhead), Andrew Pece (Ethan, youngest member of T.R.), Grant Miner (Keef, druggy), Don Allen (Officer William Rennard); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Bert Dragin/Roger Corman; New World Pictures; 1984)
“Its sincere sympathy for the runaway kids is what elevates this standard rebellious teen flick above many others in this genre.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer-director Penelope Spheeris (“The Decline of Western Civilization”/”Wayne’s World”/”The Beverly Hillbillies”) uncompromisingly helms this flawed (too contrived) but gritty low-budget exploitation drama that connects teen runaways in the ‘burbs of LA with the loss of innocence. Its sincere sympathy for the runaway kids is what elevates this standard rebellious teen flick above many others in this genre. The nonprofessional cast have some trouble spitting out their lines, but their rawness is surprisingly effective. Ms. Spheeris has a grip on what the punk generation is about, even though the film has little to say that’s original and its dramatization was never fully convincing. But if the basically sweet kids with the spiked hair look who commit petty crimes and disturbances are ugly, the clean-cut adults with attitude problems look twice as ugly. The nihilistic punk runaways are seen as products of broken, abusive or dysfunctional homes and band together in an unhealthy lifestyle to form an alternate family that at least gives them a little love and a reason to live.

The film opens with a rabid Doberman pinscher attacking a baby outside a telephone booth and then follows a group of rebellious teens (ranging in age from 6 to 18) led by Jack Diddley (Chris Pedersen), who leave home for one reason or another and set up their own community called T. R. (The Rejected) in a roach-infested abandoned home that is in a wooded area of LA getting ready for a new highway to be constructed and is filled with wild attacking dogs (abandoned just like the kiddies).

Evan Johnson (Bill Coyne) becomes the latest recruit for the aimless T.R. when he splits from his nagging alcoholic single parent mom. The motley crew is immersed in the ’80s punk rock scene and attend club concerts by groups like the Vandals, that turn violent. They get into rumbles, smoke dope, graffiti the neighborhood with their gang tag, rob the freezers and shelves of garages of the local suburban homes to get food and are scapegoated in the community for all the crime by two local bozo vigilante members who threaten them with guns. Why the police are slow to kick them out of their illegal condemned residence is because Jack’s black stepfather (Don Allen) is the police officer who looks after Jack despite being rebuffed. He’s viewed as the only adult in the community who cares about the kids but seems helpless in aiding them.

The film has an undertone of anger against the adults and seems to want to give the kids big hugs, as it blames the hypocritical adults for creating this enormous generation gap.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”