Johnny Suede

1991, R, 97 min. Directed by Tom DiCillo. Starring Brad Pitt, Catherine Keener, Calvin Levels, Allison Moir, Nick Cave, Tina Louise.

REVIEWED By Pamela Bruce, Fri., Nov. 6, 1992

Originally produced and performed as a one-man show for The Home for Contemporary Theater in New York City, director DiCillo reshapes his material into a debut screenplay concerning the episodic days in the life of a cool cat wannabe sporting an industrially-severe DA -- Johnny Suede (Pitt). Avoiding the reality of urban angst, Johnny instead chooses to envelope himself in a cloud of mythical nostalgia where he can practice an illusionary sense of spiritual homology with the cultural archetype, the Fifties Teen Idol. Not just any Fifties Teen Idol, mind you, but one personified by the gospel according to that Travelin' Man, Dream Lover himself, Rick Nelson. Johnny's spiritual quest away from the malaise of moldy mayonnaise and withered carrots in his dingy fridge, and his slacker subsistence derived from painting buildings with a buddy (Levels) takes to the high road when he is divinely bestowed with the hippest, coolest black suede shoes this side of rockabilly heaven. The next thing Johnny knows is that he meets his ultimate dream girl (Moir) -- a vapid ingenue with a hardcore, Strawberry Patch habit, right down to her wallpaper and lipstick -- and he is able to get his guitar out of hock and really get serious about his songwriting/formation of a band plans. Things couldn't get better when his dream girl's mom (Louise) also happens to be a record producer. But, things get worse, for Johnny loses his dream girl and his big chance to cut a record. Johnny's return to the mundane is cushioned somewhat by meeting another young woman (Keener) whose no-nonsense approach to love and life allows the root of reality to take hold of his own existence, even if it may be fleeting. DiCillo's humorous insight into the post-modern culture manifests into vivid characterizations that are enhanced by credible cast performances. Stylistically, DiCillo seems to be taking his influential cues from David Lynch, with a dash of Fellini and Buñuel thrown in for good measure, for the surrealism in Johnny Suede echoes with the best that these auteurs have to offer without appearing silly or overworked. The only weakness in DiCillo's film is the timid initiative in parts of the narrative, where he offers any number of tantalizing avenues that could -- coupled with the surrealism -- really kick the plot into high gear and create a more memorable and lasting cinematic experience. Otherwise, expect the film to remain fun and impressionable only during its 90-minute duration.

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Johnny Suede, Tom DiCillo, Brad Pitt, Catherine Keener, Calvin Levels, Allison Moir, Nick Cave, Tina Louise

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