"Smithereens" offers a time capsule into a very specific era and subculture—New York City's punk scene in the early 1980s. Directed by Susan Seidelman in her feature debut, the film remains a vital portrait of a young woman's struggle for recognition and a place to call her own.
Susan Berman gives an absorbing performance as Wren, a self-absorbed, aspiring punk star who is as manipulative as she is lost. Her character's ambition for fame and refusal to settle for an ordinary life take her on a journey through the city's underground, where she crosses paths with various equally adrift characters. These include Paul, a naive but well-meaning young man from Montana played by Brad Rijn, and Eric, a marginally more successful musician played by punk rock figure Richard Hell.
Seidelman's direction brings an authenticity to the narrative that is both gripping and uncomfortable. Her camera doesn't shy away from the grittier aspects of the urban environment or the flaws of her characters. The film's raw, almost documentary-like style underscores the sense of urgency and desperation that pervades the characters' lives, making it clear that their options are running out as fast as their youthful energy.
"Smithereens" is notable for its sound design and music, featuring an eclectic mix of punk and New Wave tracks that not only elevate the film but also serve as a character in their own right, evoking the mood and ethos of the era. The film's gritty cinematography by Chirine El Khadem captures the textures of the city, from the graffiti-covered subway cars to the garbage-strewn streets, that have since been sanitized by gentrification.
However, the film may not be for everyone. Its downbeat tone and focus on characters who are often unlikeable in their selfishness can be challenging. Yet, that's also what makes "Smithereens" so compelling—it doesn't romanticize its subjects but presents them in all their flawed humanity.
This film made history as the first American independent film to compete for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, a testament to its unique vision and the talent involved. Despite its relatively low profile, it has gained a cult following and remains a reference point for movies exploring youth culture and urban malaise.
In summary, "Smithereens" is an unflinching look at a subculture and a city in transition. It's a tough but rewarding watch that captures a moment in time and a state of mind, resonating with anyone who’s ever felt lost, desperate, or out of options.