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USA 1991
Directed by
Tom DiCillo
95 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Johnny Suede

It will surprise no one to find out the writer-director of this off-beat comedy, Tom DiCillo, worked as a Jim Jarmusch’s cinematographer during the 1980s, notably on the latter’s break-out hit, Stranger Than Paradise. The same low-fi, grungy aesthetic with its likeably dopey characters and love of old school rock’n’roll is there in all its glory together with a slight Lynchian vibe, not a little thanks to the score by Jim Farmer. One might also surmise that the films of Aki Kaurismäki, particularly Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989) made their contribution to DiCillo’s vision

Brad Pitt plays Johnny Suede, a rather self-deluded young man who lives in a run-down apartment and nurtures a fantasy of being a Ricky Nelson type crooner of love ballads. He may only have the clothes and a major quiff but when a pair of black suede loafers fall out of the sky he feels that he's on the way if only he can get his band together.

Like Jarmusch, Tom DiCillo has an eye for the incongruities and surreality of life and if you share in this sensibility the film is a treat, with some delightfully deadpan dialogue. Pitt, on the way to the big time thanks to the release the same year of Thelma & Louise gives a nicely judged performance as the none-too-bright Johnny in what is still one of the best things that he has done. Other cast members who went on to bigger things are a just-recognisable Catherine Keener as his girlfriend and Samuel L.Jackson who appears briefly as a bass player in Johnny’s erstwhile band. There is also a small role for Nick Cave as Freak Storm, an über-cool rocker with a white pompadour, a silver suit and red cowboy boots. The ending is a little weak. with the metaphoric meaning of Johnny’s mystical suede shoes left rather up in the air, but for the most part the film’s tongue-in-cheek panache provides a pleasant treat.




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