Dir. Susan Seidelman || 1982 || USA
Recently, there have been a few films that have popped up on Netflix Watch Instantly from the 1980s that concern young women trying to become famous via punk music. So far Smithereens has been the only one I have watched (unless you count Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains). The premises of Smithereens and the like films kind of boggle my mind, but I came up in a post-punk, post-Ian Mackaye, post-hardcore, post-riot grrrl world where one is not supposed to get into punk or zines or whatever for fame, money, or even glory really. Punk and its various subcultures now are perhaps overly earnest, naive, and insular; things I'm realizing more and more as I get older and more distanced. I was a year old when this film was released, but it is my understanding that punk was already on the decline by 1982, and that is the world that Smithereens somewhat reflects. It's also one of those New York City films that could never be remade today. This film and The Howling are two films off the top of my head that show how decrepit NYC was 30+ years ago.
Smithereens is about a 19-year-old girl named Wren from the North New Jersey suburbs who comes to NYC to yes, seek fame in punk music. She works in a copy shop where she makes fliers of her face to post around the city. She constantly claims to be busy trying to get bands together, but it never happens. She's rarely seen actually speaking to musicians who might want to be in a band. She's blown off by a band who plays frequently at The Peppermint Lounge. She gets involved with Eric (Richard Hell) a has-been singer from a one-hit wonder band called The Smithereens. From Eric she learns that most of the punks have left NYC for Los Angeles. So she schemes to somehow get enough money to leave with Eric. In the mix is Paul, a cute guy traveling through NYC from Montana who sleeps in his van and eventually wants to settle in New Hampshire. He's enamored of Wren, but she blows him off and generally just toys with him until he gets tired of it, which takes awhile.
Wren is not a sympathetic character. She's manipulative and is basically a bum in both the sense of constantly couch-surfing (or bed-surfing, or van-surfing), borrowing money to the point where even her family refuses to loan her anymore, and being a social climber of sorts. And yeah, people like her do exist in punk and zines. Although she goes as far as acting jealous and fighting other women Eric speak to and ruining "business" Eric is trying to attend to so he can further his own career; you do feel sorry for her sometimes, especially at the end of the film. But despite how unlikeable almost every character in the film is, Smithereens is a interesting and fairly compelling movie. Seidelman gets bonus points for having The Feelies' "The Boy with Perpetual Nervousness" as the main and recurring theme for the film. The Feelies' Bill Million helped with the soundtrack.
PS - I was finding it weird that the film was called Smithereens, after Eric's band, when Eric is a secondary character. But it is perhaps an appropriate title to the film because of the phrase "blown to smithereens", which is what Wren's life is throughout the entire film.