DIRECTED BY: Gregg Araki
FEATURING: James Duval, Rachel True
PLOT: Shallow L.A. teenagers take drugs and have kinky sex all day in preparation for the party of the year, while a rubber alien reptile occasionally stalks and abducts them.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As an attempt at a contemporary update of Repo Man by way of Clueless, Nowhere is weird, but only in the most superficial way possible; ultimately, it lacks the emotional and thematic chops to earn itself a more dignified adjective than “silly” (although less dignified adjectives like “self-indulgent,” “pretentious” and “annoying” do spring to mind).
COMMENTS: It begins with the portentous pronouncement “L.A. is like… nowhere. Everyone who lives here is lost,” voiced with emotionless fervor by “Dark” (Keanu Reeves impersonator James Duval) as he masturbates in the shower. (This should be your first hint that you might want to skip this movie: do you really want to spend 82 minutes watching an inferior version of Keanu Reeves?) In the course of a day, the film introduces us to such lost characters as bulimiacs, drug addicts, vanishing valley girls, a “Baywatch” hunk/rapist, and teen dominatrices, all of whom are at bottom indistinguishable but for their preferences in body piercings. Their chief defining characteristic is a lack of character. What little character development there is involves Dark’s doomed search for true love and his fruitless attempts to convince bisexual gal pal Mel (Rachel True) to stop sharing her nubile body with every Tom, Dick and Mary. Too occasional chuckles come via the vulgar and exaggerated teen slang. (A three way cameo conversation between val-gals Traci Lords, Shannen Doherty and Rose McGowan about potential beaus to take to the big party who are not gay, dead by their own hand, or under-hung is an engagingly braindead highlight). Any lighthearted satirical momentum the film may muster, however, is destroyed by the intrusion of ugly realities like date rape and teen suicide that belong in a non-joke movie that would treat these topics with respect. Writer/director Akari aims his wit at an incredibly easy target—vapid Hollywood teenagers—but he hardly appears less shallow than they are; whenever the script veers dangerously near something that looks like a real human emotion, as in the climax, he’s quick to deploy predictable Gen-X irony to turn the scene into an absurd joke before his skill at eliciting genuine empathy can be tested.
The teens’ irresponsible “empty” hedonistic lifestyle of drugs, partying, and humping hot bodies actually looks pretty appealing, if only the company didn’t totally blow. The flick may be enjoyed by smart teenagers (even though director Araki seems to have nothing but contempt for teens), but impressionable young minds should be steered towards better adolescent angst comedies like Heathers if it at all possible. Not currently available on DVD in North America.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“This live-action cartoon might be described as a surreal ‘American Graffiti’ crossed with a kinky ‘Beverly Hills 90210,’ as imagined by a punked-out acolyte of John Waters or Andy Warhol… If it weren’t so overpopulated and desperate to shock, ‘Nowhere’ might have succeeded as a maliciously cheery satire of Hollywood brats overdosing on the very concept of Hollywood.”–Steven Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)
6 thoughts on “BORDERLINE WEIRD: NOWHERE (1997)”
Reading over this, and also realising that this review is 18 months old, I am wondering if you’ve ever seen the other Araki films, mainly the remaining two of the Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy? The fact that you mention that the film is vapid is really valid – the fact that it deals with serious issues in such a flippant manner is the entire point of his filmmaking, for me at least. The Doom Generation is the must see and I feel its the crux of the trilogy and the glue that holds it all together, making sense of the project. I look forward to the review of that.
No, I haven’t seen the other Araki movies yet, and I do think I should give him another chance. As I wrote elsewhere, I suspect I may have been a little too hard on this one, though I still don’t think it’s a good movie. Disclaimer: teen anomie may be my least favorite of all genres. It seems to me you usually you end up with the most salacious tendencies of exploitation films, combined with the worst pretensions of art films.
I’m not sure about that Cassie. Someone showed me Doom Generation awhile back, and to be quite honest, I hated it. I hated the characters(even if they were supposed to be non-sympathetic, they still lacked interest whatsoever; better anti-heroes have been made in the nihilistic streak), the plot was uninteresting and pretentious in the worse sense(this is coming from the guy who loves non-linear movies). To be quite frank, I’ve seen much better examples of nihilistic cinema, and it seems like Greg Araki has completely missed the mark. To me, he’s attempting to do what Bret Easton Ellis has been doing for years, without any actual substance or developed social-commentary. But, thats just my judgement from one movie. Ill give him a couple more shots before completely condemning him.
(Responding six years and one week later…)
I was drawn to your point about Bret Easton Ellis. I’m a big fan of his book “Glamorama”, which probably knocks the whole teen/twenties useless Hollywood type genre up a few notches.
Unfortunately, interpretations of Ellis’ work are somewhat underwhelming (though I will defend “American Psycho” as one of the only ways that movie could have been produced in this country at that time). Considering their mutual love of lists and excess, perhaps Peter Greenaway should helm the next Bret Easton Ellis screen translation.
The only way this norrmie review could have had even more pearl-clutching and even less bite is if it was written by Roger Ebert. Weird movies can be more than just titillating – some might even invite you to adjust your perspective.
I came away from this film feeling Araki loves the characters and teens, actually. This is a movie made from a deep understanding of the place and characters. I believe it’s coming straight from Araki’s life… Real life doesn’t handle date rape with the respect it deserves… life is not a respectful place, necessarily. Respect is this invisible web we try to tie ourselves up in, just like bondage, or some freaky rope play, or whatever. I completely disagree with your review. This is a film worth time.