Aaron: So I just watched Gregg Araki’s Kaboom on OnDemand (I love OnDemand. Truly.) and I really think it’s a big pile of dumb. I have seen a lot of Araki’s stuff and I have liked a lot of it. I think Mysterious Skin is one of the best films of the past decade and a really brilliant work. I thought there were some silly, clever moments in both Doom Generation and Smiley Face, but this one really just didn’t work for me.
It feels more than anything like a film school final project (especially with all the digital wipes and fades and transitions). It seems very unfinished technically, the acting is totally terrible (although I recognize that might have been on purpose… whatever that means) and the script is dumb. Basically you have one story about the Smith kid who is a pan-sexual fuck-a-holic and you have this other weird story about the cult. The two stories never connect and, really, the cult story is just a hat on the end that merely tries to justify the narrative and give it some meaning.
I appreciate that Araki is showing frank (homo)sexuality and is somehow connecting to a younger, very now generation, but it all feels very unpolished and dumb. It’s not particularly funny, and lots of the humor just comes from the girlfriend’s monotone delivery (which is ultimately so West Coast it becomes annoying).
Alex – why should I give a shit about this movie?
Alex: If I have a problem with the last act of the movie, with its onslaught of exposition and embrace of the ridiculous, is that it deprived the movie of some of its meaning. But wait. I get ahead of myself.
I often find myself defending the Araki aesthetic against criticisms that his work is cheesy or amateur or film school-ish. (I’d use those adjectives describe tripe like Blue Valentine.) Araki, like John Waters, is a princess of camp. And I insist that one doesn’t have to be gay to “get” it. I mean, Star Wars is as campy as it gets, and straight boys love that shit, and nobody criticizes George Lucas for his wipes and iris transitions.
But that kind of style finds no home in mainstream movies anymore — just look how serious Lucas got in the newer Star Wars films. And so on the fringes we find Araki and Waters and I Love You Phillip Morris. I wish campiness didn’t have to be attached to gayness, but oh well. We live in a world of niches.
Kaboom is about the naturally adventurous — and yes, erotic — state of being young and on one’s own for the first time. All the wacky shit that happens to Smith, the main character, is an expression of possibility. We’re not meant to take any of this seriously; this isn’t Araki’s neo-noir. Like Cocteau, he circles around the cliches and then drops bombs on them. It’s not a narrative, it’s a fantasia.
Anyone who thinks Araki is lazy or short of attention span isn’t noticing how carefully he juxtaposes images and strings together otherwise innocuous closeups: we go from Smith’s face to the computer screen to the trackpad to the keyboard to the screen to his face again, and when we arrive back at his face he’s smiling mischievously. Araki has a few bits like that in Kaboom, ingeniously edited sequences that brilliantly express the experience of an iChat full of possibilities. He’s capable of real lyricism, though Mysterious Skin and Nowhere are better examples of that than Kaboom.
And color me pink, but I think Araki’s found a major screen presence in Thomas Dekker. It’s not just that he’s gorgeous (although he is, breathtakingly, stunningly beautiful). More than that, the camera loves him. He’s like Montgomery Clift or Alain Delon: born to be put on film.