Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Nowhere


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/9/07 w/ Additional Edits.


When controversial Japanese-American director Gregg Araki came onto the indie film scene with his confrontational, nihilistic 1992 feature The Living End. The film was hailed as a landmark for the New Queer film scene while giving Araki an audience of disaffected youth, notably those who are homosexual. A year later, Araki embarked on his most ambitious project to date on a trilogy of film relating to teen angst which was known as the Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy. 1993's Totally Fucked Up and 1995's The Doom Generation won fans among the young and disaffected Generation X audience but was hated by more conservative film critics. In 1997, Araki completed his trilogy with a film that not only heralded the end of Generation X but the era of angst for his film Nowhere.

Written and directed by Gregg Araki, Nowhere tells the story of an alienated young man dealing with problems with his girlfriend as well as his own sexuality. Meanwhile, during this strange day, an entire group of young people deal with all sorts of troubles leading up to a party that would signify their own doom. Described by Araki as he quoted, "Beverly Hills 90210 on acid", the film is an exploration of pop culture, celebrity, and such featuring numerous cameos and appearances from then-unknown stars and such. Nowhere, despite its stylish imagery and quirky characters, falls into its overwhelming sense of angst as the days of 90s teen-angst comes to an end.

Taking a shower and masturbating at the same time, Dark (James Duvall) is fantasizing about his relationship with not just girlfriend Mel (Rachel True) but also his new classmate Montgomery (Nathan Bexton). The dream becomes more intense with the involvement of a couple of sadomasochistic women named Kriss (Chiara Mastroiannai) and Kozy (Debi Mazar) as Dark is woken up by the knocks of his mother (Beverly D'Angelo). Dark is an aspiring filmmaker wanting to finish a project for a class while dealing with his already failing relationship with Mel. Later getting picked up by Mel and her best friend Lucifer (Kathleen Robertson), they meet up with Montgomery as they eat breakfast at a coffeehouse. Learning that a party by a guy named Jujyfruit (Gibby Haynes) is being held tonight, Dark and his friends including Dingbat (Christina Applegate), Egg (Sarah Lassez), Alyssa (Jordan Ladd), and Cowboy (Guillermo Diaz) are excited. Cowboy is feeling frustrated by his boyfriend Bart (Jeremy Jordan) and his growing addiction to heroin.

While in the bathroom, Egg finds herself meeting up with a former teen idol (Jaason Simmons) while Alyssa leaves with her big, biker boyfriend Elvis (Thyme Lewis). With Dark, Dingbat, Ducky (Scott Caan), Lucifer, Mel, Montgomery, and Cowboy deciding to play a drug-version of kick the can later on, the day gets stranger when Dark sees a trio of Valley girls (Traci Lords, Rose McGowan, and Shannen Doherty) get zapped by an alien. Egg meanwhile, has a conversation with the teen idol only to have their romance become violent. Bart's descent into pain and addiction leads him to a drug dealer named Handjob (Alan Boyce) furthering his break with Cowboy. With the party happening later tonight, Mel's little brother Zero (Joshua Gibran Mayweather) is hoping to go bringing along his young girlfriend Zoe (Mena Suvari).

After a pre-game sex with Mel, Dark ponders his loneliness as Mel scoffs off his own feelings as they leave for the kick the can game with Dark providing Ecstacy. High on Ecstacy mixed with alcohol, the game ensues into something stranger when Montgomery encounters an alien. While looking for directions into Jujyfruit's party, Zero encounters Alyssa's nihilistic brother Shad (Ryan Phillippe) and his girlfriend Lilith (Heather Graham) going into a game of nihilistic sex. Zero eventually finds the direction as he tries to follow a trio of drag queens before getting his mom's car stolen by a trio known as the Atari gang. Egg and Bart, each descend further into their own troubles as they watch a preacher (John Ritter) on TV spreading his message.

After the game of kick the can, the rest of the gang minus Montgomery go to Jujyfruit's party where things become confusing. Dark’s melancholic behavior and Mel's desire for more open relationships only trouble Dark's behavior and the party later on. When Handjob arrives and news about Egg and Bart are revealed, things begin to fall apart on this day which was claimed by Alyssa to be the apocalypse. For Dark, the young man ponders about his own existence and wondering if he'll ever find true love.

While the film is directly inspired by Bret Easton Ellis' novel Less Than Zero, Araki chooses to go more into the world of 90s teen angst where by the time of its production, it's clear that angst was out. Despite some wonderfully stylish dialogue, intense direction, and such. The film lacks a very central plot where there's all of these little stories but some of them don't gel well together. The most interesting story surrounds Dark who is really the central character of the film and the film's main protagonist. The other stories, as interesting as most of them are, tends to make the film feel a bit episodic and uneven. While Araki definitely goes for ambition in this ensemble-driven, Altman-like style, it doesn't work as a whole.

Then there's Araki's ode to pop culture where at times, it's fun for whatever the characters are referencing and such. Yet, at the same time, it feels a bit distracted and being that it's in set in the mid-90s. A lot of these references feel very dated. There's no doubt that Araki is into style, even with his script, editing, and direction. There is a tendency where the film does feel like it's style-over-substance. It's not entirely his fault. It's just that he had set his ambitions to high where the film, like the title itself, goes nowhere on some parts. Yet, it does become a bit interesting in the third act where an act of violence and the aftermath surrounding Dark's behavior reveal a sense of loss in a world that's definitely changing. Despite a lot of the film's flaws, Araki does bring in some redeeming moments along with some memorable characters.

Cinematographer Arturo Smith creates a wonderfully colorful, stylish look to the film with its use of filters to reveal the mood of where the characters are at. Smith’s photography is definitely a highlight of the film that is vibrant and intense as Araki's unique style. Araki serves as the editor where despite the numerous storylines, does create some unique cuts, even the use of jump-cuts for a film with a running time of 82 minutes.

Production designer Patti Podesta and art directors Dan Knapp and Pae White create some great sets in the rooms some of the characters are in. Whether it's the polka-dots that Mel lives in, the room with Babyland lyrics that Bart lives, even the coffee house that the gang hangs out looks unique. Costume designer Sarah Jane Slotnick even goes for the film's unique style from the grunge-like clothes that the guys wear to dresses that Mel wear and wigs that Lucifer wears as well. Sound designer Mark A. Rozett does some excellent work in the sound from the noise of the alien blaster to the haunting sound during the kick the can game sequence.

A highlight in any of Araki's film is the soundtrack. Supervised by Peter Coquillard, Howard Paar, and Budd Carr. The film's soundtrack is a mix of Brit-pop, shoegaze, dream pop, industrial, and anything relating to the 90s alternative music scene. Featuring cuts by Suede, 311, Marilyn Manson, The The, Slowdive, Catherine Wheel, Hole, Babyland, James, the Cocteau Twins, Filter, Daft Punk, Nitzer Ebb, Sonic Youth, Curve, Blur, Mojave 3, the Verve, the Future Sounds of London, Ruby, Portishead, Jesus & Mary Chain, Coil, Elastica, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, and Nine Inch Nails doing a cover of Soft Cell's Memorabilia. It's a killer soundtrack of what was the mid-1990s.

Finally, we have the film's cast that includes cameos from My So Called Life's Devon Odessa and Step By Step's Stacy Keenan as two girls whose respective names are What and Ever, The Brady Bunch's Christopher Knight and Eve Plumb as Bart's Swedish Parents, Charlotte Rae as a fortune teller, Denise Richards as Lucifer's sister, David Leisure as Ducky & Egg's dad, video director Stephane Sednaoui as a photographer in the party, Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers, Traci Lords, Rose McGowan, Shannen Doherty, Chiara Mastroianni, Debi Mazar, and Beverly D'Angelo.

While most of these cameos are fun to watch and such. They tend to be a distraction of sorts where the audience it's like "Hey, there's you-know-who" and such. While it worked in Araki's last film The Doom Generation to some extent, it doesn't work this time around though it was funny to hear Chris Knight and Eve Plump talk in Swedish. Another cameo from the late John Ritter as a preacher is also a hoot to watch.

Former Baywatch star Jaason Simmons brings an unsympathetic, over-the-top performance as a teen idol who is really violent and such. Then again, it's not a performance until he becomes violent and not a very good one. Alan Boyce is good as the drug dealer Handjob whose dealing eventually leads him into trouble. Ryan Phillippe and Heather Graham give excellent, over-the-top role as nihilistic lovers who just love to have sex.

Jordan Ladd is nice as the luscious Alyssa while Thyme Lewis is good as the submissive, tough Elvis. In her film debut, Mena Suvari is good as Zoe while Joshua Gibran Mayweather is also good as Zero. Scott Caan is good as the stoner Ducky while Sarah Lassez is also wonderful as Egg, whose life crashes down after a violent encounter with the teen idol. Former teen-pop idol Jeremy Jordan gives a fantastic yet harrowing performance as the self-destructive Bart.

Guillermo Diaz is really good as the despondent Cowboy who mulls over Bart's self-destructive behavior. Nathan Bexton is good as shy, different-eye colored Montgomery who becomes an unlikely companion for the melancholic Dark. Kathleen Robertson is excellent as the cynical Lucifer who hates Dark and loves Mel yet only shares Dark's heartbreak over Mel's open lifestyle. Christina Applegate gives an excellent performance as Dingbat, who is really one of the rare observant characters in the film who tries to understand what's going on with the people around her.

Rachel True is one of the film's weak points not because of her performance but the character itself. It's understandable that she want an open relationship and such but her character really feels like it belongs in a different film. Then there's Araki regular James Duvall who is good in playing the despondent, depressed Dark who is trying to deal with relationship problems and such.

The film was released in 1997 in a lot of anticipation among Araki's fanbase. Being the third and final film of his Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy, it's often considered to be the weakest of the three. Especially for the fact that the film came out around the time 90s alternative rock was pretty much over with the rise a teen-pop movement. Another controversy surrounded over the fact that Araki briefly dated co-star Kathleen Robertson despite the fact that he was gay. Even as the two collaborated again for Araki's 1999 love-triangle romantic comedy Splendor.

In the end, despite some great performances, stylish imagery, and a great soundtrack, Nowhere is a good but messy affair by Gregg Araki. While more hardcore, independent audiences will enjoy his earlier work and more mainstream audiences will enjoy his recent feature, 2004's Mysterious Skin. Nowhere is a film that unlike some of his features, is a film that might be a nostalgic trip to watch now but a trip that won't be a total joy.

Gregg Araki Films: (Three Bewildered People in the Night) - (The Long Weekend (0' Despair)) - The Living End - Totally Fucked Up - The Doom Generation - (Splendor) - (This is How the World Ends (TV)) - Mysterious Skin - Smiley Face - Kaboom - (White Bird in a Blizzard)

(C) thevoid99 2011

4 comments:

CS said...

There are parts of this film where the satire is spot on, and then there are moments that are shocking for the sake of being shocking. I have come to the realization that I just do not get Gregg Araki's style. Granted, I have not seen Mysterious Skin yet but his other films just do not grab me the way they do others.

thevoid99 said...

It's been a while since I've seen the film and when I first saw it back in 1998 on TV. Having seen and enjoyed The Doom Generation. I was quite affected by it.

Then seeing again a few years ago, some of the satire is spot-on and there's moments of shock. The problem that I had was that it didn't have a very consistent story to tell. It was a film where I think Araki isn't sure what to tell. Even as it was released when that entire era of alternative rock was over.

It's an OK film but one of his weakest. Mysterious Skin is his best film and I'm about to post my old review in a few minutes.

edgarchaput said...

This is the one Araki film I've seen. You say it is the most normal of his trilogy...Wow, then I don't need to see the other two. I get some of what Araki is trying to do, in some ways I respect it a lot, but it doesn't reach my sensibilities. You visit my blog a lot, so you know I have pretty eclectic taste, but this was a bit much for me.

thevoid99 said...

@Edgar-Well, I think it terms of look and production. It is the most normal film of that trilogy though the one film I haven't seen in that trilogy is Totally Fucked Up which I'm trying to find online.

Then again, nothing from Araki is normal with the exception of Splendor and Smiley Face.

I would recommend those 2 films plus Mysterious Skin and The Living End as starting points. Nowhere is not a great way to be introduced to Araki. It was very over-dramatized and whiny which is a real turn off for me.

Thanks for the comments and yeah, I would suggest to not see Totally Fucked Up and The Doom Generation. His other films after that trilogy are much better.