Release Date: April 16, 1999
Box Office Gross: $299,569
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness Rating: 60%
Pertinent Review Line: “In this season of blaming everything on the movies, a film like “SLC Punk!” will no doubt inspire knee-jerk moralists to deplore its depiction of an anarcho-punk lifestyle. But remember: A movie isn’t about what it’s about, but about how it’s about it. What “SLC Punk” is really about is Stevo’s ironic distance on his lifestyle – about the way he lives it and analyzes it at the same time. The message isn’t “live this way,” but “look at the way you live.” There’s a little something there for all of us.” – Roger Ebert, Sun Times
Somewhere in American society the notion that coming of age stories could only feature the likes of Dustin Hoffman being seduced by an older woman, or a New Jersey kid learning to stand up for himself through the power of martial arts. When this kind of story comes along featuring people with odd hair or weird clothes it will often fall to the wayside. As Roger Ebert pointed out, this is what happened with SLC Punk!.
The Case For Why It’s Not Underrated
The movie revolves around a small subset of the population, and a subset that most people don’t understand, are afraid and often tend to shy away from. It is hard to appeal to people when they can’t find merit in the main characters. It is a kin to a 1960s film in the South starring an all black cast. These are people most wouldn’t associate with and thus have a hard time caring for them, let alone spending two hours of their time with them.
The movie also takes place in Utah; we know this from the title alone. Utah is a state that very few people care about. I would even wager there is a large population that didn’t even know it was a state until the Olympics were held there. So you’ve got a demographic that no one cares about in a location no one cares about, hard to be appealing with those working against you. This is part of why I haven’t watched Urban Cowboy.
Strike three against the movie is the choppy nature of it. The narrator, Stevo, tends to go off on tangents and the linear path of the story gets a little skewed. And not in that fun Tarantino-how-does-this-all-fit-together way, but more in an I-can’t-stay-focused sort of way. Hard to keep people interested when you don’t stick to the story.
The Case For Why It Is Underrated
The unfocused story telling actually makes this movie better. It makes Stevo an unreliable narrator, much in the same manner as Holden Caulfield. This kind of story teller makes a coming of age story work better. When we go through those times that force us to grow, the details some times become blurred. We can lose track of what is important, or put emphasis on minor things that seem important. The tangents Stevo goes on don’t seem very relevant at the time, but in the bigger picture they help show who he is and what helped define who he would become. If he left these seemingly unimportant events out the story it would ultimately lead Stevo to be uninteresting and the movie fairly pointless. Coming of age stories are not just about the big event that changes a person but all the events which ultimately lead to that change.
Sure coming of age stories are a dime a dozen, it’s a tried and tested formula. Generally we are given characters that we can quickly see ourselves in. With Stand by Me we can pick out who we were and who are friends were (I was Jerry O’Connell). What SLC Punk! did was give us outcasts. Very few of us were Stevo and Heroin Bob, but we were all punks in Salt Lake City. That is, at one point in our lives we felt different than everyone else, like foreigners in our own land. But it is part of the life experience, part of trying to figure out who you are and what you want. This movie shows that path.
Essentially Ebert points out in his review how Stevo looks at how he lives. This strikes me as something not often seen in coming of age stories, but something that is important in life. If you have ever gone through the process of taking a hard look at how you live, then you know this can be a difficult but ultimately fulfilling event. SLC Punk! captures exactly what that process can be like. The realizations Stevo comes across are poignant and forces him to take a look at every aspect of his life; question what is really important and lead him in the direction that is ultimately right for him. It can best be summed up by the words of the Bouncing Souls, “When I stopped to look around all the music was different to me.” The things Stevo had always thought and believed were beginning to be chipped away and were becoming different to him.
Then Stevo experiences something we should all hope to go through at some point in our lives. He meets someone who questions his whole life and allows him to make that change he so desperately needs and subconsciously wants to make. Meeting that special someone that will call you on you bullshit but like you anyway is one of the ultimate occurrences in life. Someone who can make us see our true selves; that to me is the true definition of a soul mate.
The movie ends on a down note, but from the tragedy the real Stevo is set free. The movie serves as a fairly accurate rendition of the human experience. Whether you’re a punk, a mod, emo, metal, a cowboy, or whatever the movie serves as a voice to finding who you are and what you want from life. That is a rare and great quality to take from a movie.
At some point we are all the only two punks in Salt Lake City.
Also the movie has a pretty kick ass soundtrack.
13 May 2010 Lee S. Hart