Maddening, disarming, undisciplined, incisive, solipsistic: adjectives to describe teen behavior in general and “My Suicide” in particular. Working closely with son Jordan and lead Gabriel Sunday, helmer David Lee Miller spent four years shooting and in post-production, capturing the extreme disaffection of today’s youth via a fictional video diary of a kid who announces he’ll kill himself on camera. Results are exasperating yet feel genuine (barring one major slip-up), and though extreme editing will induce headaches in adult auds, its guerrilla style should catapult the pic to major cult status in high schools and the blogosphere.
Of course, thanks to a guaranteed R rating for foul language and sex, teens will be employing every tried-and-true formula to get into screenings the MPAA says they shouldn’t attend unaccompanied by an adult. More problematic still may be getting adult chaperones to sit through the editors’ riotous pacing, which never rests for more than 30 seconds on a shot and comprises a barrage of manipulated footage, 1950s public-service docus, animation and forever-shifting video images.
Archie Williams, aka Archie Holden Buster Williams (Gabriel Sunday), fancies himself the protag in his own postmodern “Catcher in the Rye,” though his piercing shrapnel-blasts of anger are miles from Holden Caulfield’s cerebral anxiety. Uninvolved Mom (Nora Dunn) and Dad (Robert Kurcz) gave Archie the guest cottage when he was 11, and now, at 17, he’s converted his space into a video dweeb’s paradise, recording his every rant and fantasy with the fetishistic detail of a clever, narcissistic teen screaming for attention.
When he announces in class that his project will be to off himself on camera, unamused teachers have him taken away for psychiatric evaluation, his expulsion watched and filmed by cynical classmates who now look at him as an interesting freak. Even Miss Perfect herself, Sierra Silver (Brooke Nevin), Archie’s guilty dream girl, wants to know him following his return to school.
Their exchange — basically dueling video interviews on the school roof — reps the first time the pic slows down to take a breath: The edits are just as rapid, but the visual and aural assault is temporarily reduced to a manageable level. Besides sharing a taste for the banal verses of “poet of death” Jesse Gabriel Vargas (David Carradine, a parody of himself), Archie discovers Sierra’s most-popular-girl status masks a need for self-destruction far more troubling than his own volatile bluster.
Miller’s stated aim is to address the epidemic of teen suicides from the point of view of a fellow teen, so he’s worked with son Jordan and thesp Sunday as writers and editors. As a sympathetic look at troubled teens harboring suicidal fantasies, the pic is surprisingly effective, though it wears a veneer of complexity that doesn’t fully pan out on analysis. A late scene with the supposedly ultra-cool beat poet Vargas injects a completely false note.
Similarly, Miller goes for a last-minute emotional manipulation that’s indefensible. These problems aside, the pic undeniably will connect with younger viewers — though this isn’t something the under-15 crowd should be exposed to. Making it feel so real is the flawless cast: Sunday is an agitated spinning top of energy, his rages an uninterrupted gush of angst. Nevin has the less showy role but also the more disturbing one, her considerable beauty covering profound turmoil.
Smaller roles also make an impression, ranging from Mariel Hemingway as Sierra’s barbiturate-dependent mother to Zachary Ray Sherman’s haunting turn as a seemingly free-spirited classmate eaten up by unspecified despair. Joe Mantegna provides an odd cameo as an Indian shrink with an accent of undetermined origin, though his two scenes are amusing.
Pic is overloaded with references to scores of Hollywood productions, from “The Deer Hunter” to “The Matrix,” all expertly imitated by the chameleonlike Sunday. Miller, whose last feature was the 1993 comic horror pic “Breakfast of Aliens,” uses a staggering amount of footage; considering Generation YouTube’s unlimited access to every type of moving image, as well as the current obsession with recording every banal aspect of our lives, the overload here is, distressingly, a sign of the times.
Animator Arvin Bautista brings a suitably youthful sensibility to the mix of live-action and animation. Music gathers an impressive roster of hip indie tracks, including Mark Mothersbaugh and Radiohead.