The Reel Deal
A Reel Deal Film Review
Film Insight by Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 3.5 out of 5
“THE PERPETUAL TEENAGER”
Gregg Araki is definitely an acquired taste. His films are often fun and rarely boring, but come with their fair share of over-the-top, ridiculous and cheesy aspects. They’re a lot like their most frequent subjects: teenagers. They have a lot of angst. They’re quirky. They think they’re probably a little more witty than they are. They’re over-sexed, and can’t help but be playful. They’re rarely overly serious, but always carry with them an anxiety about the world. They want to fit in, but they can never really be fully accepted. His films are that goth kid in your high school class: begging to be liked while simultaneously trying so hard not be.
Araki became known in the 90s for his shoegazey, angst-ridden teen-apocalypse flicks. He was part of the New Queer Cinema, an exciting group of young queer filmmakers whose films dealt with GLBT themes, and made some of the most iconoclastic and nonconformist art films of a decade overrun by the Hollywood money-machine. Like other members of the New Queer Cinema movement, such as Todd Haynes and Pedro Almodovar, he has grown up a bit, become less iconoclastic, more palatable and acceptable to the mainstream, though not wholly embraced by it. His films may not be as accomplished as those of Haynes and Almodovar, who have gone on to Oscar nominations and constant praise, but there has definitely been an attempt to move beyond the teen-angst phase and into new territory, and view it with new eyes. His last two films have been the Anna Faris stoner-comedy Smiley Face, and before that, the more sober and serious look at sexual abuse, Mysterious Skin. Kaboom, Araki’s latest feature, is the culmination of his previous ten films. It melds the more mature side of his recent filmmaking with his youthful joie de vivre and apocalyptic vision. The film harkens back to his early movies like The Doom Generation–he’s again doing the teen-angst apocalypse schtick–but now it is through the filter of his more recent, and slightly more mature, films.
Gregg Araki is equal parts John Waters, David Lynch and Aaron Spelling–which is a strange potpourri of influences. He has the low-fi, outsider-art pose of John Waters, endlessly fascinated with quirky characters, but like Waters can be weighed down by slapstick and gross-out comedy that doesn’t always work. Weird can be wonderful when used correctly, but weird for weird’s sake can be bemusing. He also attempts to focus on the dark underbelly of American culture, as Lynch has done so successfully for years, but he can’t seem to do it without a wink and a nudge. This sometimes adds to the humor, and other times adds to the eyerolls. There’s no denying though that he does achieve a certain Wild At Heart Lynchian-ness in various parts of Kaboom. But Araki is oddly and surprisingly perhaps most at home in his Aaron Spelling role. The film, after all, would have probably made a better tv show than a film. It could have easily been an over-sexed, trippy version of the Spelling-produced Charmed. In the past, Araki called one of his previous films, Nowhere, “Beverly Hills 90210 on acid,” but perhaps that statement applies better to this film than to any of his earlier ones. This is Beverly Hills 90212 on acid, and with witches. So: Charmed on acid?
The plot revolves around Smith (Thomas Dekker), a young film student at some college in an unnamed California town whose sexuality is “undeclared,” even if his major isn’t. As the film races towards the end of the world as we know it, Smith amasses a number of lovers, both male and female, and also discovers that he has stumbled into, for reasons at first unknown, a huge conspiracy involving kidnappings, poisonings, murders, a cult, witches, animal-masked antagonists and the apocalypse itself. There are a number of characters and plotlines and they all come together in one massive explosion of story in the glorious finale.
Though Gregg Araki’s fever-dream of a film isn’t an unqualified success, it is definitely one of Araki’s better films. It all comes together fairly well because, with a somewhat more mature film sensibility, he can add new depth to his favorite subject: teen-angst. Even though slightly matured, Araki remains a perpetual teenager, and this film shows that maybe that’s where he’s best-suited.
Kaboom is a film written and directed by Gregg Araki. It stars Thomas Dekker and Haley Bennett. A sci-fi story centered on the sexual awakening of a group of college students.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of IFC Films
Design by Marie Havens