Friday May 9, 1997
As the credits unroll for the high-energy "Nowhere," Gregg Araki's most ambitious movie to date, we hear the voice of Dark (James Duval) observe, "L.A. is like nowhere. Everybody who lives here is lost." This most sweeping--and familiar--of generalizations certainly applies with bleakly comic force to 18-year-old Dark and his pals.
Yet Dark, for all the apocalyptic feelings he experiences--and he's not alone in this--is a sweet, dreamy, sometimes klutzy youth who is simply looking for love and, in doing so, affirms its possibility.
What a risky picture "Nowhere" is. Araki plays compassion for his young people against a sendup of virtually every teen movie classic you can think of since "Rebel Without a Cause"--not to mention "Melrose Place" and "Beverly Hills, 90210"--and even borrows from those beloved monster movies of the '50s.
The world may be coming to an end, dreadful things befall some of his kids, but Araki resolutely feels that that's no excuse for losing your sense of humor. "Nowhere," which has a scorching mix of songs from contemporary rock acts, is stylized to the max with production designer Patti Podesta's bold yet simple key settings establishing the film's fantasy tone. Take this picture literally and you're in trouble; better to view it as an allegory on youthful despair in which Araki deftly scores serious points without taking himself too seriously.
Even though Dark, who's working on a video for a class project, is clearly the film's hero--and perhaps Araki's alter ego--there seems to be almost as many people in "Nowhere" as there are in your usual Robert Altman movie. Dark is "totally" in love with his lifelong girlfriend Mel (Rachel True). While she thinks he's just "precious," she's a conscientious, upfront hedonist and switch-hitter with a girlfriend, Lucifer (Kathleen Robertston), who engages in nonstop insults with Dark. Mel is the kind of girl who postpones talking about a relationship she actually regards as nonexistent to go off with a pair of blond surfer twins (Keith and Derek Brewer).
"Nowhere" takes place within a 24-hour period in which Dark and some of his friends meet at breakfast and look forward to an evening of Kick the Can, involving dropping pills washed down with beer, to be followed by a really big party given by an ultra-decadent guy named Jujyfruit (Butthole Surfers singer Gibby Haynes).
Among the many--many--people we meet are a lovely girl nicknamed Egg (Sarah Lessez) picked up by a TV series hunk (actual "Baywatch" hunk Jaason Simmons, here truly terrifying), who goes on fatuously about the miseries of celebrity only to prove to be a real Jekyll and Hyde, and Cowboy (Guillermo Diaz), whose boyfriend and bandmate Bart (Jeremy Jordan) is plunging deeply into drugs and kinky sex.
The most innocent couple, despite their adult sexual sophistication, are Mel's likable younger rother Zero (Joshua Gibran Mayweather) and his devoted girlfriend Zoe (Mena Suvari), who want only to manage to get into Jujyfruit's party. There is a slew of familiar actors in cameos, including Beverly D'Angelo as Dark's mom.
Whether "Nowhere's" Alien (Roscoe) is real or a figment of an hallucinogenic--or, in fact, Satan himself--doesn't matter. He's funny yet represents the sense of fear and danger that so many of these young people experience, whether they admit it or not.
Araki is a marvel at controlling shifting tones, and "Nowhere," a confident, intricate work, has a great Pop Art look, yet its emotions are real. The most chilling moments occur when, reaching the rock-bottom moments of their young lives, Egg and Bart, in the isolation of their respective bedrooms, have only a slick and dangerous TV evangelist (John Ritter) to turn to.
If there is a sense of finality to "Nowhere," it is entirely appropriate, for Araki considers it the conclusion of a trilogy on disaffected youth that includes "Totally F***ed Up," a serious and engaging attack on suicide among gay teens, and "The Doom Generation," a tale of sexually ambiguous crooks on the run.
Artistically and emotionally, Araki, one of the most distinctive American filmmakers to emerge in the past decade, has expressed just about all that he can about young people feeling adrift in a spiritual void. It will be fascinating to see where he takes us next.
Nowhere, 1997. R, for scenes of strong violence, sexuality and drug use involving teens and for strong language. A Fine Line Features presentation. Writer-director-editor Gregg Araki. Producers Araki, Andrea Sperling, Why Not Productions (France). Cinematographer Arturo Smith. Costumes Sara Jane Slotnick. Production designer Patti Podesta. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. James Duval as Dark. Rachel True as Mel. Kathleen Robertson as Lucifer. Nathan Bexton as Montgomery.