SLC Punk!

USA/Australia 1998

Reviewed by Charlotte O'Sullivan


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

The early 80s. Stevo is a young punk living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Stevo's divorced middle-class parents want him to go to Harvard to study law. He'd rather fight and party but it dawns on him that his "hardcore" friends are going soft. And he himself seems to be changing. Further confused when his father informs him he's got into Harvard (his father filled out the forms), Stevo's world finally comes apart when he sees his girlfriend Sandy getting off with another man. The girlfriend of Stevo's best friend Bob promises to set Stevo up with a pal of hers, Brandy. Stevo and Bob go to see Bob's father. It's his father's birthday, but the old man is so paranoid he doesn't recognise Bob and gets out his gun.

That evening they all go to Brandy's party. Stevo is immediately smitten by Brandy but Bob can't settle down, telling everyone he's got a headache. A girl gives him a mound of tablets; he becomes violent, so Stevo takes him home. In the morning Bob is dead. Stevo is ready to marry Brandy and go to Harvard.


A sweet film about punks seems almost a contradiction in terms. You expect messy, amateurish and obnoxious - and SLC Punk! certainly manages to be these as well - but sweet? Surely they can't be for real, these American anarchists. Director/writer James Merendino's point, of course, is that no one's for real. Like the boys in Peter Yates' delightful Breaking Away (1979), Stevo's gang are just looking for a niche, and just as the underprivileged hero in that film adopted an Italian identity, overprivileged Stevo has embraced funny-coloured hair. It comes as no surprise when right near the end we learn Stevo and Bob are also Dungeon and Dragon-playing nerds.

One of the film's many problems, however, is that Matthew Lillard is not a naturally sympathetic actor. Like Dennis Hopper and Jim Carrey, he's one of those faster-and-faker-than-life performers who always brings something new to the term OTT. Lillard is especially limited because he has only two expressions: the I-know-you-like-me smile, and the shit-you-don't-like-me pout. His constant presence (he supplies not only the voiceover narration but talks endlessly to camera) soon becomes irritating and only a few scenes manage to trick him into doing something new, such as a scene where his father gradually seduces him into going to Harvard. Most of the time, though, you don't know where you are with Lillard/Stevo. So when his friend Bob dies (fatally traumatised, it would seem, by his lack of parental love and Spandau Ballet's 'She Loved Like Diamonds'), Lillard dives into a puddle of emotion, wailing, "Now I don't have any friends!" You wonder if Merendino is taking a sly poke at Stevo's narcissism. Or maybe he's just hoping we'll break down in floods of tears ourselves.

The voiceover compounds the confusion. It's unclear, for instance, whether we're meant to accept the fast-forward in the narrator's perspective. Three-quarters of the way through the film, Stevo makes it clear he's no longer the boy he was. It's just the sort of self-deprecating voice of authority familiar from The Wonder Years. Again, if this is an ironic comment on how we seek to shape our lives then it's an interesting move. However, one suspects Merendino wants us to take it at face value. As a viewer, you can put up with a lack of structure - this is, after all, an anarchist's tale - but the last-minute attempts at order are harder to forgive.

SLC Punk! sticks far too closely to the rites-of-passage formula. And most of the bizarre encounters (whether with misfit friends or prejudiced locals) take us places we've been before. But ironically the place feels new. Salt Lake City's mud flats, the post-apocalyptic forests and miles upon miles of white sky manage to appear both unfriendly and banal. We're used to seeing America's wide-open spaces through appreciative eyes (as the "promised land" the Mormons supposedly mistook Utah for). It's nice to view it for once as a bored teenager might, as necessarily inadequate, as a waste of space. And then there's that sweetness, that acknowledgement that boys do cry which actually leaves more room for the female characters to shine. (Annabeth Gish does a nice turn as stern hippie goddess Trish, while Summer Phoenix is a revelation as the unaffected Brandy.) This, plus the spot-on music (Blondie, that cherry-coloured bridge between punk and mainstream, plays at Brandy's party) make one look forward to whatever shambolic project Merendino gets around to next.


James Merendino
Sam Maydew
Peter Ward
James Merendino
Director of Photography
Greg Littlewood
Esther P. Russell
Production Designer
Charlotte Malmlof
©Straight Edge Productions LLC
Production Companies
Beyond Films presents
a Blue Tulip production
Executive Producers
Jan De Bont
Michael Peyser
Andrea Kreuzhage
Tam Halling
Associate Producers
Katrina Fernandez
Glenn Salloum
Production Co-ordinator
June Hatch
Unit Production Manager
Tam Halling
Location Manager
Arlene Sibley
Assistant Directors
Matias Alvarez
Win Whittaker
Script Supervisor
Suzanne Bingham
Risa Bramon-Garcia
Randi Hiller
Salt Lake City:
Roz Soulam
Visual Effects
Wendy Rogers
Chris Watts
Set Decorator
Adriana Verway
Costume Supervisor
Giovanna Zompa
Key Make-up Artist
Tania Goddard
Key Hairstylist
Shelley Brien
Pacific Title/Mirage
Music Supervisor
Melanie Miller
"Too Hot" by Prince Buster aka Prince Buster, performed by The Specials; "Champaign Breakfast" by/performed by John Sbarra; "1969", "Little Doll", "We Will Fall" by David M. Alexander, Ronald Asheton, Scott Asheton, Iggy Pop, performed by The Stooges; "No More Bullshit" by David C. Lowery, Victor H. Krummenacher, Greg Lisher, Christopher Molla, Jonathan E. Segel, performed by Camper Van Beethoven; "Train Wreck", "One of These Days", "Fear & Loathing" by Preston O'Meara, Paige O'Meara, Evan O'Meara, Dan Epstein, performed by 8 Bucks Experiment; "Cretin Hop", "She's the One" by Jeffrey Hyman, John Cummings, Douglas Colvin, Thomas Erdelyi, performed by Ramones; "Gasoline Rain" by Derwood Andrews, performed by Moondog; "Gangsters" by Jeffrey Dammers, Terry Hall, Stephen Graham Panter, Lynval Golding, John Bradbury, Neville Staples, Rod Byers, performed by The Specials; "Bluegrass Blues" by/performed by Danny L. Roberts; "Urban Struggle" by Joe Escalante, performed by The Vandals; "Through the Town" by/performed by Roger Roger; "Moonlight Sonata" by Ludwig Van Beethoven, performed by Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus; "Wreck We 'Em", "Pooh Bare" by James Merendino, Elizabeth Westwood, Elmo Weber, performed by Holistic Olive; "Look Back & Laugh" by Ian MacKaye, James Brian Baker, Stephen Wills Hansgen, Jeffrey K. Nelson, Lyle Preslar, performed by Minor Threat; "Requiem" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus; "Dreaming" by Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, performed by Blondie; "Amoeba" by Rick Agnew, Casey A. Royer, performed by Adolescents; "Kiss Me Deadly" by Billy Idol, Tony James, performed by Generation X; "Sex & Violence" by Walter Buchan, Glen Campbell, Gary W. Mccormack, John Duncan, performed by Exploited; "Mirror in the Bathroom" by Andrew Cox, Everett Morton, Roger Charlery, David F. Wakeling, David Steele, performed by Fifi; "Little Ocean" by/performed by Whiskey Biscuit; "I Love Livin' in the City" by Lee James Jude, performed by Fear; "Pay Back" by I. Zimmer, performed by The Bates; "Gypsy Tango" by/performed by Robert J. Walsh, Bugowski; "Beat My Guest" by/performed by Adam Ant; "Lazy River" by Sidney Arodin, Hoagy Carmichael, performed by Les Paul Trio; "Hot for Teacher" by Edward Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, performed by Van Halen; "Istanbul Coffee House" by/performed by Daghan Yakup Baydur, Richard Keith Madoc Thomas; "Free to Live" by/performed by Bill LeBlanc, Robert J. Walsh; "Rock & Roll" by Lou Reed, performed by The Velvet Underground; "Mother of Pearl" by Bryan Ferry, performed by Roxy Music; "She Loved Like Diamonds" by Gary Kemp, performed by Spandau Ballet; "The Trees" by Neil Peart, Gary Lee Weinrib, Alex Lifeson, performed by Rush; "Kill the Poor" by Jello Biafra, East Bay Ray, performed by Dead Kennedys; "High Adventure"; "Mexican Dance"
Sound Design
Elmo Weber
Sound Mixer
Doug Cameron
Re-recording Engineers
Dennis Patterson
Warren Kleiman
Supervising Sound Editors
Elmo Weber
Walter Spencer
Dialogue Editors
Walter Spencer
Michael Ferdie
Bill Knight
Sound Effects Editors
Derek Vanderhorst
Donna Lynn Biggs Weber
Warren Kleiman
Paige Pollack
Adam De Coster
Warren Kleiman
Stunt Co-ordinator
Fenton Quinn
Matthew Lillard
Michael Goorjian
Annabeth Gish
Jennifer Lien
Chris McDonald
Devon Sawa
Jason Segel
James Duval
John the Mod
Summer Phoenix
Adam Pascal
Til Schweiger
Chiara Barzini
Kevin Breznahan
Christina Karras
Russ Peacock
Christopher Ogden
young Stevo
Francis Capra
young Bob
McNally Sagel
Scott Brady
Vaughn McBride
liquor store man
Janice Knickrehm
liquor store woman
Marcia Dangerfield
liquor store lady
Tom Jacobson
liquor store fellow
Stephanie Shumway
Eric Robertson
Micaela Nelligan
Mary Bishop
Sean's mother
Dominic Gortat
Evan O'Meara
GBH singer
Elizabeth Westwood
hot babe
Glade Quinn
Brad Jessey
Don Walsh
Bob's dad
Adam Lawson
Brandon Klock
Kassandra Metos
little girl
Brad Slocum
Joyce Cohen
clothing store woman
Tracey Pfau
fast food clerk
The 8 Bucks Experiment
Dan Epstein
Evan O'Meara
Paige O'Meara
Preston O'Meara
Extreme Corporal Punishment
Columbia Tristar Films (UK)
8,792 feet
97 minutes 42 seconds
Dolby digital
In Colour
Anamorphic [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011