Filmed on a seriously small budget with a crew of about twelve people, Mitchell Altieri's Lurking in Suburbia is one of those "festival-type flicks" that you may catch on the Sundance channel one night and find yourself more than a little surprised at how engaging the thing is. Despite a plot synopsis that feels exceedingly familiar (and some DVD packaging that's more than a little misleading), Lurking is a sly, personal, and low-key indie comedy that manages to become more accessible and likable the longer it goes on.
Newcomer Joe Egender delivers a strong lead performance as the almost-30 Conrad (Connie) Stevens, a semi-shiftless and quietly fun-loving grown-up kid who's growing just a little bit tired of his extended battle with arrested development. Much of Lurking in Suburbia focuses on the conversations, preparations, and hijinks surrounding Connie's 30th birthday party -- but don't go mistaking this flick for something akin to Van Wilder or American Pie.
Altieri employs a device that doesn't work too often: He allows his lead character to narrate directly to the audience, an approach that generally comes off as lazy, obnoxious, or tiresome, but here it works particularly well -- due in no small part to the straightforward and impressively insightful screenplay. (An early admission from Connie that 30 pretty much sneaks up on you while you're wondering where the last decade went is right on the money, and from that moment on I knew I was watching a flick I could relate to.)
The all-in-one-day adventure sees Connie and his friends/roommates preparing for the birthday shindig while sharing all sorts of arguments, debates, worries, and concerns. Best of all, the frequent conversations actually feel like realistic banter between grown-up goofballs who are well aware of their generations' collective shortcomings. I've seen probably a dozen movies that are very similar in tone and execution to Lurking in Suburbia, but this one has some actual heart, wit, sincerity, and talent on both sides of the camera.
Aside from Egender's consistently strong lead performance, the no-name cast is packed with unexpectedly impressive turns. As the gal among a group of guys, Buffy Charlet is a lovely little charmer, while Ari Zagaris (as a former football hero who's also gay) and Samuel Child (as the twice-divorced hound dog of the crew) manage to create multi-dimensional characters instead of broadly-drawn caricatures.
If the final third of Lurking in Suburbia gets just a little bogged down with all of Connie's ex-girlfriends, future concerns, and angst from the past, that's probably because it's a pretty difficult time of life for many young men. But the flick never becomes a lecture hall or a pretentious blather-fest, which automatically makes it better than many of its indie-guy brethren.
Video: The low-budget indie looks surprisingly good in its anamorphic widescreen outfit. It's not exactly Star Wars-level picture quality, of course, but for a movie shot with the DVX-100 "little camera," the visual presentation is pretty dandy.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, with nada in the subtitles department. Audio quality is a little on the "heavy" side, but bump the volume down a few notches and you'll be fine.
The main supplement is a rather amusing "drunken commentary" in which writer/director Mitchell Altieri, producer Phil Flores, and actors Joe Egender & Sam Child kick-start the chat-track with the clinking of glasses and have a fun time watching their movie. It's a humble and unassuming commentary that just might serve to inspire a few new indie filmmakers, plus the quartet never gets pretentious or arrogant, which is nice. (You'd be surprised how many first-time filmmakers spend most of their commentary tracks praising themselves.)
Also included are nine deleted scenes and some Heretic trailers for Lurking in Suburbia, 24 Hours on Craigslist, and Kissing on the Mouth, which makes Heretic 3-for-3 on solid indie releases.
Connie's canny insights and asides to the audience aside, Lurking with Suburbia is also a surprisingly funny little flick. A scene in which our hero is about to bed a young hottie, only to have her ask if he remembers her mom from high school, is more smartly amusing than most of what passes for comedy these days.