The rewind to the ’80s is already upon us with skateboarders sporting Dead Kennedys T-shirts and Mary Harron’s adaptation of American Psycho wrapping production in Canada. One of the first punk revival films out of the gate, James Merendino’s SLC Punk! strikes a brighter chord than the immortal Sid and Nancy, and although fresh and endearing are hardly words you associate with punk, the film doesn’t feel like a cop-out until the very end.
Matthew Lillard stars as Stevo, a Reagan-era, Salt Lake City punk whose ex-hippie liberal parents tolerate his blue mohawk, trusting that eventually he’ll follow their footsteps all the way to Harvard Law School. The film is couched as a memory piece and Merendino’s most innovative directorial strategy is to collapse present and past by having Lillard shout Stevo’s reflections about his youthful rebellion directly at the camera, while the scene he’s describing in the past tense takes place behind him. I know it sounds like a Brechtian affectation, but it works. Unlike most narrations, which leach energy out of the action, this one amps the film up.
There are a couple of excellent set pieces, including a poignantly evoked acid trip. For a film about a youth culture defined by its music, SLC Punk! skimps a bit on the score, but the selections by the Ramones, the Specials, and the Dead Kennedys are choice.