Collage by Chloe Leeson
(Part two was going to be a tribute to Over The Hedge – possibly the best film to ever be set in suburban America – but I realised it probably wasn’t cool or independent enough for this list. Then I watched Palo Alto thinking it would be everything I hoped for (it wasn’t) and realised I was right, no portrait of the ‘burbs could be better than Over The Hedge. But this lot come pretty close):
AMERICAN BEAUTY (SAM MENDES, 1999)
American Beauty the key to unlocking the meaning of that Katy Perry song. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is just kind of fed up with his hysterically stereotypical life and decides to do something about it. Visually, American Beauty is the perfect suburban film, rose-lined white picket fences, cheerleading routines, boring offices, and big tidy middle class houses. It’s generally quite dreamy, creepy and voyeuristic; it’s what would happen if The Virgin Suicides was about a middle aged man. Despite how visually great it is, I feel so uncomfortable how Lester’s perverted crush on his daughter’s friend is presented, it’s a bit too romanticised and not condemning [of Lester] enough in my opinion.
WHIP IT (DREW BARRYMORE, 2009)
Whip It is essentially what I like to think my life would be like if I lived in the suburbs, directed by Drew Barrymore with a great soundtrack. Set someplace in Texas I’ve never heard of before, Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) lies to her parents and disregards her responsibilities to join a roller-derby team. In Whip It you get to see this typical suburban hellhole that Bliss endures, of being routinely forced into beauty pageants by her mother and working a shitty job – even if she gets to work with Alia Shawkat all day, who I would work anywhere to have as a co-worker – but then by night, Bliss is known as Babe Ruthless and gets to compete, get drunk and hang around with cool roller derby babes! She gets the mundane suburban life but also gets to hang around with Eve the rest of the time, literally the best of both worlds.
CLERKS (KEVIN SMITH, 1994)
When I have a particularly bad day at my job I watch Clerks to remind myself that one day all the annoying customers and strange situations will one day be a depressingly funny story to tell. Clerks follows a day in the life of slacker Dante Hicks, who goes in on his day off to work at a convenience store in a town full of, people who and his best friend/co-worker Randall can only describe as “savages”. The characters are weirdly easy to relate to; despite the fact that I work in café in a city in England, and they work at/loiter around a small grocery store in America, Clerks presents some (exaggerated) universal truths about what it’s like to work in a crappy job in your teens where you have to deal with the public. Clerks may not have the pretty visuals and adventure of the suburbs other films do, but it’s like the cooler, lazier, slacker version of those films.
THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (SOFIA COPPOLA, 1999)
I feel like putting Virgin Suicides on this list is pretty redundant because 100% of all teenage girls I’ve spoken to who are into movies love this one. It was impossible to narrow down pictures for this one because visually, this film is perfect. Sofia Coppolas Virgin Suicides follows a group of boys who are obsessed with five sisters who kill themselves… but you probably already knew that. This film is very so sylized it seems to take place in a different world (the 70’s you guys!), everything from the curtains to the school bathrooms seem tinted just to fit in. The suburb in this film presents a creepy, enforced uniform happiness (think nice lawns and sons going to ivy league universities), it’s the ideal suburb which the Lisbons decaying happiness and house eventually disrupts and destroys.
By Reba Martin