“When I think back about that summer…” goes the opening narration, and while plenty of films have centered on fond memories of summers past, Scenes from the Suburbs combines its bittersweet wistfulness with a dash of totalitarianism. It seems that these suburbs are under constant military occupation, for reasons half-explained (“towns would attack each other if a golf course was built too close to a border, or if a shopping center gave off too much light pollution”); the film’s narrator, recalling the events of that teenage summer, chooses instead to reflect on his friends.
The film’s first montage of lazy summer scenes, set to the album’s title track (its music video is comprised of clips from the short) has the kind of evocative imagery, off-the-cuff photography, and remember-this immediacy that made the opening scenes of Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are so memorable — this and other sequences of Scenes from the Suburbs are almost like an extension, Jonze taking on the teen years in much the same spirit as his interpretation of pre-pubescence.
There’s not much plot in Scenes from the Suburbs — it is more of a tone poem, a mood piece that improbably but effectively mixes Spielbergian nostalgia, teen angst, and impotent rage. It is beautifully photographed and casually funny (“I learned that from Hitch.” “Wait, you watched Hitch?”), well-anchored by the naturalistic performances of its cast of unknowns.
Unsurprisingly, the Butlers’ screenwriting skills aren’t quite up to their musicianship — the jack-booted military presence is a somewhat laboriously literal metaphor for the oppression of the ‘burbs, and bits of dialogue are mighty heavy-handed (“Do you like humanity, Kyle?” demands a friend’s creepy older brother, the closest thing the film has to a villain). But Scenes from the Suburbs is certainly a half-hour well spent for fans of Jonze or the band; it is an effective visual realization of the record’s themes and spirit, and a redolent snapshot of provincial adolescent dread.
That’s just our two cents, though; watch Scenes from the Suburbs at MUBI and tell us what you think in the comments.