Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: The excellent Green Room has thinking about some of the best punk rock movies.
James Merendino’s SLC Punk! is a great little movie about punk rock kids in Salt Lake City, Utah, featuring a best-ever performance from Matthew Lillard in the lead. Lillard’s work in the film is all the more impressive considering it came out in 1999, right between Freddie Prinze Jr. collaborations like She’s All That and Wing Commander. His absence from the years-later sequel, Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2, is probably a major reason its recent iTunes release went largely unnoticed. The lack of Lillard also makes a certain sense, because he already made an effective follow-up to SLC when he directed Fat Kid Rules The World, a 2012 adaptation of a YA novel.
Lillard doesn’t appear in the film—though he did reprise his SLC character Stevo for a scene that wound up on the cutting-room floor—and the teenagers who do are living in the Seattle area, a ways off from the repression of Salt Lake City. But Troy (Jacob Wysocki) is still an outsider; as the movie opens, he’s motherless, friendless, overweight, and contemplating suicide. The movie often makes quick, amusing trips into Troy’s fantasy life, which has far more violence and sex than his real one. Semi-homeless, self-destructive dropout Marcus (Matt O’Leary) stops Troy from stepping in front of a bus, then gloms onto his new sorta-friend with the vague, impulsive idea that they’ll form a band together. Marcus can actually play guitar, but Troy knows nothing about his designated instrument, the drums.
Troy also must contend with his stern military-trained father (Billy Campbell), and the movie’s treatment of their relationship is one of its strongest, surest points. Troy’s dad recognizes Marcus as troubled and unreliable almost immediately, but also understands that his son needs more than discipline and running laps to break out of his loneliness; scene after scene goes in a different direction than the one dictated by coming-of-age formula. Campbell gives a wonderfully nuanced and quietly touching performance, skewing the father-son conflicts toward gentle comedy rather than melodrama.
In SLC Punk!, a late-movie flashback shows two of the main characters as teenagers, at the exact moment where they cast aside Dungeons & Dragons and Rush in favor of punk rock. Fat Kid Rules The World isn’t quite so explicit about the ditching of Troy’s online role-playing game for real-world grit, but it does position punk rock as sort of a more vigorous after-school program than a shut-in’s life of junk food and video games. That makes the movie’s depiction sound toothless, even moralizing, but it’s actually pretty sweet, and devoid of scenester condemnations of the uncool. Fat Kid Rules The World reminds its audience that punk is supposed to be, on some level, for the uncool. Lillard may not be as interested in anthropology of the punk scene as Merendino, and his movie isn’t really about music, per se. But like its older sibling, Fat Kid knows how punk rock can fit into the fabric of growing up.
Availability: Fat Kid Rules The World is available on DVD from Netflix or your local video store/library. It’s also available for rental or purchase from the major digital outlets.