Before Brad Pitt adorned every young girl's bedroom walls, he was Johnny Suede. Sporting a mountainous quiff that would have Morrissey quivering in a state of envy, Johnny lives in a dream world of rock stardom, moulded by his musical hero, Ricky Nelson.

Residing in an armpit of an apartment on Brooklyn's roughest edge, he goes out to make a phone call one day and ends up finding a pair of black suede shoes. With these babies, he's a made man - the perfect sartorial match for his daily dose of vintage Fifties gear.

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Living aimlessly, with little more than a carrot and mayonnaise to his name, as well as a painting job he hates, Johnny slips on his shoes and gets serious about putting his band together and finding a woman. After braving the unknown and asking out a beautiful brunette, called Darlette (Alison Moir), he lands himself in a sticky situation, struggling to control her mothers' flirtatious outbursts at dinner, as well as the grip of Darlette's boyfriend, Flip Doubt (Peter McRobbie), a sleazy ageing photographer.

Once Darlette gives him the heave, he has another crack at the band, which is a shambolic mix of his best friend Deke (Calvin Levels) on keyboard, B-Bop (Samuel L Jackson) on double bass and himself on guitar and vocals. Before rehearsing together in an old warehouse, he pushes a midget down an escalator for trying to look up a girl's skirt, which leads to his next serendipitous sexual conquest, with the girl (Catherine Keener) herself. Acting the knight in shining armour, he persuades her to come along and watch them play. From then on, he's taught more than he bargained for about women, life and himself.

With Johnny Suede, the juice is not in the story, but between the lines. Finding cult status after all sorts of distribution problems, writer/director Tom DiCillo's debut is full of cracking little idiosyncrasies that draw you into the story. First there's Pitt's outrageous pompadour, which is worth tuning in for alone. His original outfits are exceptional - and all from DiCillo's wardrobe, apparently. There's a cameo appearance by Nick Cave, who plays rock star Freak Storm, with an equally excessive peroxide blonde quiff, and a likeness to Billy Idol.

The structure of the film is a little shapeless and tends to meander from one thing to the next without much purpose. But then this reflects Johnny's journey perfectly as he comes of age. There are some outstanding scenes, particularly one of close intimacy with Keener, and the supporting cast is strong all round. Although contrary to DiCillo's original intentions, Pitt portrays Johnny as a bit of a simpleton, but with such honesty and vulnerability, it's easy to identify and emphasize with him

For a first time/full-length feature, this is worthy stuff.

Reviewed on: 14 Sep 2005
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A teenage troubadour searches for meaning amongst damaged egos and broken dreams.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Tom DiCillo

Writer: Tom DiCillo

Starring: Brad Pitt, Nick Cave, Alison Moir, Catherine Keener, Calvin Levels, Peter McRobbie, Samuel L Jackson

Year: 1991

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/Switzerland/France


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