Pros: The director would go on to make the hilarious Black Sheep.
Cons: Simplistic and uninsightful.
Written and directed by Penelope Spheeris, the ultra-low-budget Suburbia pretends to explore its central subject -- that being the ‘80s punk-rock crowd of displaced teenagers with terrible home lives holed up in a dilapidated abandoned house and taking care of and backing each other up -- while actually exploiting it instead. Like the equally-nauseating Kids, it invidiously lays claim that its lack of psychological and sociological insight is because the teens themselves are without insight, so presenting everything straightforwardly without depth is being “real” -- the grittier, the more truthful, as you will. The overriding flaw to this is that Spheeris cops out by painting just about every adult in a negative light, expecting our sympathy to automatically go to the teens simply by default. One parent is a vodka-swilling shrill; the other a flaming homosexual asleep with his partner in the nude in plain sight through the apartment-bedroom window so the neighbors can see; another an incestuous father to his blonde daughter. And to show that not just parents are morally corrupt, there are two parentless husbands laid off by the auto industry who transfer all their anger onto the teens when they’re not gleefully shooting the wild dogs festering throughout the community -- in the opening sequence, a baby is fatally mauled by one as her mother looks on in horror. (Tritely, the dogs, who’ve been abandoned by their masters, make for a thuddingly-obvious metaphor.) We’re supposed to get a kick out of the teens driving through respectable neighborhoods and stealing food out of refrigerators from open garages at the same time we’re intended to respect them for branding their arm with the letters TR (The Rejected) out of group loyalty and saying, “If we didn’t have each other, we wouldn’t have anything.” (There’s even more pious dialogue by the likes of "He’s gonna sh-it Twinkies.”)
With the moral deck stacked too favorably on their side -- remember, they’re all just misunderstood and misguided because of bad parenting(!); and even a convenience-store clerk who the teens steal from is odiously etched as a one-dimensional cad -- they might as well have pockets full of Get Out of Jail Free cards. In contrast, Jonathan Kaplan’s great, far-from-black-and-white Over the Edge (which was also financed by Roger Corman) depicted teen disaffectedness not from parental but community indifference: in a newly-built, nothing-to-do suburbia, the kids, having been uprooted from more-simulative urbanity, rebelled against the kind of bland conformity associative of the so-called American Dream. Spheeris’s characters come off as rebellious against just about everything, so their plight lacks the dramatic underpinnings to give it gravitas, rootedness; and the smothering of the proceedings with graphic violence and foul language is myopic in the woeful attempt to garnish it with the kind of truthful harsh reality Spheeris only thinks she’s pushing. In Suburbia, nothing is developed -- in its innate ugliness, it all comes shooting out from every direction, with the overall depiction reminiscent of one of those junky post-apocalyptic flicks, which, sad to say, aren’t any more unsubtle than this monstrous mess. Even in just one short scene in the cult classic Repo Man, where rootless Emilio Estevez’s flower-child parents inform him that they’ve given all their money to a sleazy TV minister instead of for his education, the depiction of social disassociation is oodles more organic. Spheeris is free to aver that she had guts to paint such an unpleasant portrait, but in her overall one-sided simplification it’s more a case of evisceration than dramatization.
An entry in the latest Lean 'N Mean writeoff: