director Penelope Spheeris
Penelope Spheeris’s 1984 movie about the lives of disenfranchised LA punk teenagers might actually be a more fitting 2nd installment in her Decline of Western Civilization series rather than the odd outlier that is the very amusing Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988). Suburbia is not a documentary, but does feature band performances by D.I., T.S.O.L., and the Vandals, and while the kids are acting and playing roles, they aren’t professionals, but kids she found from the LA punk scene and the street.
Her heart is with the abandoned kids, living on the periphery of society, in its ramshackle leftovers and feeding off the living suburbia that chased them out. This group are the peers of her The Decline of Western Civilization III (1988), the types of youth and scene and music she first discovered in her first documentary.
As an empathetic vantage on what under producer Roger Corman could have been a more exploitative film, she crafts one of the more effective teen films about disenfranchised youth, like Over the Edge (1979), a film which it has been compared with.
I hadn’t seen Suburbia since my own teen years, and how I see it now is different from how I saw it then. Back then, as a teen punk myself, when I looked at how any media depicted what I considered “my world” as I saw it, all I could see is what they got wrong, and I found the film sophomoric and sappy and the non-actor punks as unsophisticated and “bad.” I also recall recognizing Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and thinking he was the best actor in the film.
It’s no masterwork, but it has a good heart, for sure. And fits well within Spheeris’s body of work and her interest of the Los Angeles kids living on the margins.