26 Jan

Title: Kaboom
Year: 2011
Director: Gregg Araki
Writer: Gregg Araki
Starring: Thomas Dekker, Juno Temple, Haley Bennett, Roxane Mesquida, James Duval, Chris Zylka
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 86 min
IMDb Rating: 5.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Metacritic: 64


Gregg Araki had made nine films prior to Kaboom, all of which were part of the New Queer Cinema movement, of which he is a prominent figure. I’ve seen a few of his films, his whole Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy and the 2007 stoner comedy Smiley Face, which I thought was actually kind of good. But nothing of his I’ve seen has come even close to the film that introduced me to Mr. Araki, which was his 2004 film, Mysterious Skin. That film holds up to this very day as an incredibly thought-provoking view on a difficult subject that showed a truly sensitive hand from Mr. Araki as a director, and it of course also had Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his first role after breaking out on TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun, showing off his acting chops, something that he would only cement in the following year’s Brick, which makes it evident for those who saw that film why the man is now one of Hollywood’s most talented young stars.

This isn’t about Joseph Gordon-Levitt though, he’s not even in Kaboom; this is all about Gregg Araki and his tenth film, the one that was awarded Cannes Film Festival’s first ever Queer Palm for contributions to LGBT issues, and that’s actually a sci-fi story centered around the sexual awakening of a group of teenagers. And it’s not a bad film, but it’s just no Mysterious Skin either. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff to like here; it’s sexy and dark and well-cast with a bunch of young actors that give solid performances and well edited, it’s just not particularly well-written by Mr. Araki, so even though there are a lot of great pieces to tell this really bizarre kind of tale, it ends up feeling like a slightly stupid telling of it all sometimes.

Not to say that it’s a stupid film, because it’s not, and like I said there’s stuff to really dig here, it’s just that by the end of its eighty-six minute running time, the whole experience feels kind of trivial, like an unimportant piece of film that you would be just as fine not experiencing at all. The experience is a fun one to have, it’s like an erotic fantasy that’s pure fun and that goes by in a breeze and that you don’t particularly want to stop, a chaos you want to lose yourself in; but once its all said and done it really means nothing. Thomas Dekker plays Smith here, an eighteen-year-old film student, who’s bisexual, though mostly gay, and who has a sexual thirst that’s hard to quench. Then there’s Haley Bennett as Stella, his best friend, who’s a lesbian but who’s just as ravenous about her pursuit of erotic adventures.

It’s just such a loopy kind of film that it overshadows the more serious aspect of it about finding one’s true self amidst the puzzling paths youth thrusts upon us. But many of the things that go on here, the inquiries about identities and the scandalous, sexy, fantasy-world situations these characters get involved in, seem only to exist for the sole purpose of enabling Gregg Araki to get them to take their clothes of and get it on with each other. So that’s the impasse at which Kaboom arrived for me, and thus why I’m kind of torn about exactly what I think about it; there’s stuff here that fits in with the Mysterious Skin themes, reflected in the stuff about how teenagers always try to reinvent themselves in one way or another when they get to college, but it’s smothered by this supernatural kind of spin about sex and teen mysteries that, while funny, I think goes a bit too overboard at times.

The supernatural aspect of it comes from Smith being haunted by a series of dreams, all focusing on two beautiful women, one dark-haired and the other one a redhead. It all turns all the more kooky as these women start turning up in his real life; Stella’s new girlfriend is a sorcerer that’s the dark-haired woman and the red-haired girl is a junkie he witnessed getting abducted by a gang of masked murderers. He starts investigating into that girl’s disappearance and it all starts leading him back to his family history and to a lot of people he knows, and he starts getting closer to the truth is may mean life-altering things for his life and for the lives of people close to him. Or maybe it just means the batch of hallucinatory cookies he ate at a party are acting up.

Whether you like Kaboom or not, one thing you can say safely is that there’s not another film quite like it. It’s all about teens and sex and loud music and bright colors and trippy sequences and the apocalypse. What’s great about the stuff Mr. Araki does is that he creates a world that’s just so crazy but that in the context of his characters and their actions makes sense and is believable, and because of that, because of the atmosphere he crafts, this works. The thing is, though light and breezy and short, the film’s final act seems like it needed an extra twenty minutes to work properly, we get an explanation to the all the mysteries that’s delivered in a single piece of dialogue and the film reaches an abrupt ending soon thereafter. That kind of lazy filmmaking I didn’t get, why he had to explain it all in a scene and not just keep going at it is something I don’t really understand, it left me wanting more, it left me thinking this could have been like a trippy and funny Mysterious Skin but Mr. Araki just didn’t want to try and make it so.

Grade: B


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