SFW Review

Douglas Coupland and Richard Linklater have much to answer for, particularly for their 1991 works, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture and Slacker, respectively. Whilst both have done much better work since, both book and film captured a moment in time so successfully that the Gen X neologism became commonplace, describing a generation of young people who, tired of the commercialism of the world around them, took off into low-paid jobs, living in housing they couldn't afford and, in spite of the promise of a greater happiness through choice, found that their lives were bleak and getting worse.

What Coupland, in particular, described was a society of intelligent, potentially high-achievers who opt out of society through choice, much like the software engineers in Microserfs who opt out of Microsoft for the promise of greater riches with Oop! Linklater's film also had some connection with this interpretation, given that his cast appeared to have made a conscious decision to be exactly where they were, much like Whit Stillman or Hal Hartley's sharp and waspish casts.

Unfortunately, what followed in the wake of these two works, Hartley and Stillman excepted, were a clutch of much lesser books and films, which took the Gen X and slacker terms as a definition of a wasted generation that was as much grunge as it was Coupland's fiercely intelligent subjects. The press, music and otherwise, looked to likes of Nirvana as spokesmen for this generation, more in hope than anything else given that both Coupland and Linklater had moved on by the time of Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder and Courtney Love found themselves spokesmen and -woman with nothing to say. Instead of it referring to Coupland's cast of overachievers who found nowhere else to go but out, Gen X became more of a mask than a message, behind which hid stupid, obnoxious and dull people, a description that brings us neatly to Cliff Spab, the character at the centre of S.F.W.

S.F.W. refers to Spab's favourite phrase, 'So Fucking What', which he uses to refer to almost everything that passes him by. Spab becomes a celebrity after he is taken hostage by terrorists who hold up in a convenience store. Alongside Spab (Dorff) are Wendy Pfister (Witherspoon), Joe Dice (Noseworthy) and a number of other hostages, all of whom are shown on a telecast by the terrorists. By Day 36, the only hostages that are left alive are Spab, Wendy and Joe and all of America is watching the grainy footage of the hostages playing along with the terrorists to stay alive. But the beer's run out and Joe's getting edgy and when he produces a gun that he's been hiding, Spab and Wendy make it out. Now everyone in America wants to hear Cliff Spab but the problem is that Spab doesn't have much to say.

Like a road movie in which the participants don't actually go anywhere, S.F.W. follows Spab as he simply drifts through town. On the way, Spab calls in on those he knew before his and Joe's ill-fated stop at the convenience store, doing little more than just checking out what's changed over the thirty-six days that he was held hostage. Given that the audience quickly spots Spab and puts him to type, it isn't surprising to see that he still lives at home and to hear his dad tell him that he ought to tidy his room, nor that he's still Employee Of The Month at the burger bar where he works, where they marked his freedom with a 36c Spab-Burger. Even less surprising, given how hard the film works it to make it sound like we already know it's a catchphrase, is how everyone that he meets, be it a drunk, pregnant girl, an opportunistic lawyer, a conservative couple in a lift or a store full of shoppers, wants to say, "So Fucking What!", like they've found a personal philosophy.

To be fair, S.F.W. does make an attempt to satirise the media's portrayal of those who quickly, and without any preparation, find themselves known to the public. As such, S.F.W. delivers a number of parodies of Phil Donahue, ABC news anchor Sam Donaldson and Harvard criminal law specialist Alan Dershowitz, amongst others, but by using the same actor to play each news anchor/talk show host, S.F.W. batters the point home. Never mind 'So Fucking What', which came to mind several times through the viewing of this film, "I fucking get it", is the more pertinent phrase.

If there's anything worth noting in S.F.W., it's that the movie features some very young actors in some early roles, notably Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, whose post-hostage meeting with Spab would have been touching were it not for the amount of Spab that we had to sit through to get to that point. Had that scene occurred at the beginning of the film, we might have cared some for the couple but by the time we see them lying in bed, our sympathies are only with Witherspoon's Wendy Pfister and how far gone she must be to want to bed Spab.

There was a real-life Cliff Spab and that was Kurt Cobain, another guy who found himself as the spokesman for something when he had nothing to say. Like Spab, who is shot dead by a young activist at the end of S.F.W., Cobain died young, albeit by his own hand. Who says that if you have nothing to live for, that life doesn't return the compliment.

The Transfer

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this is only a functional transfer with the noticeable wobble on the PolyGram logo saying much about the quality of the picture to follow. Given how muted S.F.W. is, filmed in natural colours, the DVD isn't exactly being tested but with the picture appearing soft and lacking detail in the image, this is not a terribly good transfer.

The 2.0 Surround soundtrack is fine but the rear speakers are only used infrequently. Finally, whilst there are subtitles in a range of languages, the nasty colour scheme that's used - a mix of bright green edging and turquoise fill - is atrocious.


There are no extras on this release of S.F.W.


S.F.W. works hard to impress upon the viewer a sense of cynicism as well as how Spab, representing wasted youth, simply drifts through life. Or at least, the viewer would appreciate that were it made with any skill but all that S.F.W. left this viewer with was a strong dislike of Cliff Spab and his ilk.

Given these sensitive times, support for terrorism is akin to treading on very, very thin ice but I'm saddened that the media-terrorists who took over the convenience store in S.F.W. didn't simply kill Spab and Wendy Pfister as their final media-outrage and thus avoiding this entirely empty story.

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