In the 90’s Gregg Araki made super-saturated psychedelic teenage movies that not only mixed genres (comedy/thriller/horror/road move/sci-fi/camp) but also csually mixed sexual identities in a way never before seen in the history of cinema (though at the time his inclusion of joyous depictions of frank gay teen sex put him squarely in the “New Queer Cinema” category). Nowhere, The Living End, The Doom Generation and Totally F***ed Up were some of the most thrilling and vital cinema of the era. Moreover Araki proved himself a huge fan of alternative music saturating each of his scenes with awesome background tunes courtesy of his favorite bands (The Jesus and Mary Chain, Nine Inch Nails, Ride, Cocteau Twins, Thrill Kill Kult, etc). Araki proved himself a promising young auteur whose fuck-you attitude and disregard for the rules of cinematic form (to say nothing of the rules of defined sexuality) showed great promise. That promise was fulfilled with 2005’s Mysterious Skin, a more sober yet still vital examination of the fallout of childhood sexual abuse and, more poignantly, the complicated emotions (including some controversially positive) that can come with such a violation. (Incidentially the less said about his later threesome comedy Splendor the better.)

In 2007 Araki cleaned his pallete a bit while trying on some new cinematic clothing. Smiley Face is a lightly absurd stoner comedy in the vein of Danny Leiner’s Harold and Kumar series and Dude Where’s My Car featuring a wonderfully deadpan Anna Faris in the lead role (a departure for Araki who has always casted his leads as his own personal pretty-boy surrogates). Smiley Face had a lighter and more playful tone – a welcome change from the sometimes opressive gravity of Mysterious Skin.

This year Araki returns with Kaboom – a full fledged return to his cinematic roots: heavy doses of primary colors, apocalyptic religious cults, witchrcraft and pretty young things ditching their clothes at every turn. When I saw the trailer I was pumped! But after viewing the unfortunate truth is that Araki seems to have lost something in the 15 years since the close of his “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy” and the making of Kaboom. Young Araki had all the energy (sexual and otherwise) of a young turk film student. His first movies had a chaotic, amateurish and haphazard quality that gave them a vitality and disregard for cinematic rules that made it easy to ignore the clunky plots and just ride the wave. Araki has become a much more technically accomplished filmmaker since then. Unfortunately this maturity is a detriment to Kaboom. Where once his dialogue and laughibly unrealistic maguffin plot devices were just part of the fun. In Kaboom they stick out like sore thumbs. The first 1/3 of the film is delightful – we are introduced to the fresh-faced, pretty young art school hipsters as they fall asleep in class, make out and sleep with eachother, do drugs and pretty much live out the adolescent sex fantasies untainted by cares of STDs, pregnancy, sexual preference or fidelity in the way that only Araki can. Unfortunately the film gets too lost in it’s plot as the film goes on. Like his earlier films Kaboom includes a doomsday conspiracy with gaping logic holes. Unlike in his past films where Araki kept these plots in the background all the way through the closing credits, the final 1/2 of the film foregrounds the maguffin. Characters begin spouting off absurd expository dialogue when all I really want them to do is go back to fucking, fretting over their crushes and being crazy kids. The film needs more of the dimwit surfer dude Thor trying to suck his own cock and wrestling in his underwear with his supposedly ultra-straight buff dude friends and let the larger, weaker plot continue to be a string of random events that happen in the background while the rest of the characters run around, do drugs and screw.

I saw this movie with my friends Rosie and Jean who liked it a lot more than I did. Rosie had never seen an Araki movie and in some ways I wonder if I had been in her shoes if I would have loved it too. But Kaboom just comes off as an anemic retread of Araki’s older, more vibrant films.

On the upside, it’s awesome to see that Araki and I continue to have the same musical taste. Almost every new band that I’ve fallen in love with over the last five years is included in the soundtrack (the XX, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers). I really want Araki to have a music podcast so I don’t have to try to find these bands on my own – I know that Araki will always has my back in that category!

Side note: big thumbs up to the actress Juno Temple as a care-free orgasm addict blonde. She seems to be in almost every excellent independent movie I see these days (Greenberg, Cracks, Year One, Atonement) and she just drips with sex appeal. Excellent casting choice. Oddly enough apparently Araki auditioned the wonderful Rooney Mara (aka Zuckerberg’s ex in The Social Network and future star of the Millenium Trilogy films that David Fincher is working on.)

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One Comment on “Kaboom”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Ok, re-reading that last paragraph I must clarify that Year One is not that great, Cracks was iffy and Atonement was blah and forgettable. Greenberg, though – well, you all know how I feel about Greenberg.

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