Penelope Spheeris' 1983 film takes a harsh but loving look at the lives of runaway teen punks. Info
A head-first dive into '80s punk culture from one of punk's greatest historians, Penelope Spheeris' 1983 cult classic Suburbia provides all the grit and grime one would expect from a Roger Corman-produced movie about teenagers who live with rats. Featuring a young cast of non-professional actors and an appropriately pissed-off soundtrack, Suburbia is a singular document of a disaffected generation. The film looks at a small community of runaway teenagers who squat in abandoned suburban tract housing outside of Los Angeles. Beginning by following Evan, a teen who leaves home after a fight with his alcoholic mother, the film gradually turns into an ensemble piece observing the squalid day-to-day life of the group Evan ends up living with. Despite regular hardship, persecution by local creeps, and personal tragedy, the teens of Suburbia ultimately find refuge in their new chosen family.
By reveling in the grotesqueries of her characters' lifestyle and bookending the film with scenes of children dying, Spheeris makes it clear that she is intent on making a film both about and for these kinds of disaffected nihilists. Indeed, Suburbia's charms lie in Spheeris' punk ethos in both theme and form. And while the film is seemingly exploitative on the surface, her personal commitment to the L.A. underground is well documented both here and in her Decline Of Western Civilization documentary series. Spheeris staked the early part of her career on this sort of underground anthropology, and it is a beautiful and rare thing to see a filmmaker with such a thorough love for their subject, rats and all. —Maxwell Courtright