The Suburbans (1999)

The Suburbans needed a point, or perhaps a plot. It jumps around from point in time to another point in time so rapidly that it was kind of hard to follow the “when” of the storyline. Apparently the time between the jumps are completely meaningless and uneventful, as the characters are the same both before and after. In fact, apart from a couple of late-game turnarounds that are obligatory, they’re all the same from beginning to end, having learned nothing and not having done anything of consequence except having wasted your time.

The film’s basic premise involves a group of former band mates being given the opportunity by a company (apparently run by Ben and Jerry Stiller and Jennifer Love Hewitt) to rejuvenate their career. They weren’t very big in their heyday, having only released one album with one hit track, but Hewitt’s character seems dead-set on bringing back the 80’s vibe, and thinks that this band will be the ones to do it. The Stillers only appear in two or three scenes, and in their short time on-screen manage to be the film’s highlights.

The rest of the movie deals with the subsequent things tat happen after you get a studio backing you when you’re part of a band. The rehearsal, the music video filming, the parties, and so on. Strangely, no concerts occur, probably because it quickly becomes clear that the band members, all of whom are pushing 40 and have their own lives to deal with, are not going to be able to be successful. It’s only the Hewitt character’s enthusiasm that might make this work, and those aren’t odds I’d place money on.

There isn’t any coherency to what happens. We just jump from important event to another important event without any time for these characters to do their behind-the-scenes work. And whenever those parts do come out, they feel artificial and forced, like they were only included so that they could call The Suburbans a real movie. It’s like star, director and writer Donal Lardner Ward just wanted to make a movie where he gets to be a rock star, which resulted in this. Maybe he only got financing if he agreed to include faux character moments as well.

It all comes across as insincere, which is a problem when your film ends up preaching relationship and life advice. When you don’t believe that the characters really believe what they’re saying and end up practicing, it’s hard to take it to heart. I felt more put off by what The Suburbans was saying than inspired. It doesn’t help that you have actors with very little depth in the lead roles, leading to a bunch of dramatic scenes that fall flat, but the writing is just so poor that even good actors might struggle here.

I’m not sure if The Suburbans was going for comedy or drama most of the time. It was simply hard to tell. Apart from the Stillers’ involvement, there isn’t a single scene that made me laugh. So, I’m thinking it’s a bad comedy. But what if it’s not supposed to be funny? Considering how much terrible drama plays in, I figured it was going for that. But it doesn’t really fit the bill there either. It’s in some sort of limbo, stuck in the middle between drama and comedy/satire, never being any good at either.

It was also, however, never terrible enough to make me want to quit watching it. It’s a brief film, not even clocking in at 90 minutes, and it’s just mediocre enough to not be a complete waste of time. Don’t take that as a recommendation, as I definitely do not think it’s worth watching, but if you’re bored and it’s playing on television one night, and you have homework or something to do, it can be fine as a film to play in the background.

I’m actually kind of surprised that it wasn’t even in part a musical. Having the members of a band as the lead characters seems like a perfect excuse to include a few three-minute songs in order to fill in the running time. But The Suburbans never goes that way; there’s only one song that the band plays, and we only hear the chorus — over and over again, I might add. I actually expected that Hewitt’s character might join the band and skyrocket it into stardom — she has a singing background, after all — but that never happens either, which I thought was a bit of a wasted opportunity.

There’s nothing much to say of the actors within The Suburbans. Donal Larder Ward is the most charismatic of the bunch of band members, I guess, but that might only be because he points the camera at himself as frequently as possible, and because he seems like the only one actually having fun. Will Ferrell is even in this flick, but he’s not funny and he doesn’t have that large of a role. In fact, I think he disappeared for a large portion of the middle of the film, or maybe it just seemed that way.

The Suburbans is an odd film. It’s loaded with star power, has a sold premise … and then pretty much nothing shown on-screen works the way that it should. It’s a mediocre-at-best film that never lives up to its potential. It feels insincere, like a fraud, and the drama fails because of this. It’s not funny, it’s not touching, it preaches nothing of importance, and there’s no reason to give it 90 minutes of your life.

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