Fri 25 Feb 2011
A word of warning for those not familiar with the work of Gregg Araki: Barring “Mysterious Skin“, which develops more conventionally because he didn’t write it, his usual fare isn’t quite … traditional.
Actually, that’s a gross understatement as his usual themes of sexual freedom (with no Hollywood hang-ups about gay, straight, bi), anarchy, violence, apathy, love, and identity are all mixed with a sense of an impending apocalypse (this time more literally than in previous films).
Sound a bit confusing? Well, it can be and I’ve always seen his films as a visual overload meant to make the experience almost purely emotional. Trying to decipher all of the metaphors and seemingly random developments almost seems pointless. Now, that’s not to say there isn’t thought behind his work. Far from it. However, my own personal relation with his films are about letting the desperation and curiosity sink in, rather than trying to make much sense of the plot, and that’s evident in his latest work, “Kaboom”.
For those who are familiar with Araki’s work, it’s easy to make a comparison between his Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy (“Totally Fucked Up”, “The Doom Generation”, “Nowhere”) and “Kaboom”. Many of the themes are the same and he again portrays the sexual appetites of young adults as a healthy and natural exploration of self; this time on a southern California college campus. (For you eagle-eyed folk, have fun spotting elements of UC San Diego, which is no surprise since Araki graduated from UC Santa Barbara and got his masters in Film Production at USC.)
Also, you’ll spend some of the film wondering which elements are real, which are drug-induced hallucinations, if any of it’s a dream, etc., etc. About fifteen minutes before the credits roll, an expositional lump of conspiracy-laden dialogue is hurled to help make sense of it all if that’s what you need … but again, that’s not quite what’s important here.
As for acting, longtime Araki collaborator James Duval is along for the ride but only in a supporting role. Newcomers to this surreal cinematic universe arrive in the form of Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett and Juno Temple. Dekker gets stuck with the slightly doe-eyed but good natured protagonist role that’s typical of any Araki film, though he does it better than most before him and grounds the slightly bizarre atmosphere.
The real upsides, however, come from the two leading ladies, Bennett and Temple. Usually Araki’s heroines lean towards the campy side of things but both actresses confidently portray young, independent and self-sufficient women. Temple especially manages to turn what could be an ancillary character, needed more for plot development than anything else, into a far more developed entity vital to Dekker’s character exploration.
Look, trying to review a Gregg Araki film is usually more about the critic feeling good about themselves for deciphering the reels of celluloid that just passed in front of their eyes. If you’ve seen his prior works, this has the emotional tone of the mid-90s but with the polish and confidence Araki’s gained over the course of his career. “Kaboom”, despite its title and apocalyptic references is also perhaps one of the most hopeful films he’s ever done, earning itself a 3.5 out of 5.
Mainstream audiences won’t know what to make of it, and I may be completely offending the filmmaker in the way that I enjoy his work, but if you strip away the more fantastical elements, Araki explores our search for identity and connection in a raw fashion that appeals to me personally. It’s as simple as that.