In light of recent discussion of Cannes here at The Filmsmith, it is all too fitting that Gregg Araki’s latest film, Kaboom, should come out on DVD this week. Last year at the festival, it inaugurated a brand new award – The Queer Palm, Cannes’ first LGBT prize – showcasing the best queer film at the fest. Kaboom had a very limited theatrical run, so now that it’s available on DVD it demands to be seen. It will be enjoyable for those familiar with the director’s previous works, or just as great for those interested in seeing a stylish, exuberant, youthful coming-of-age tale.
Kaboom, like other Araki films (The Doom Generation), follows the young attractive Smith (Thomas Dekker) through a sexual odyssey. Smith is a freshman at college who isn’t quite gay or straight, but doesn’t feel like bisexual describes him either; he straddles the space between these pigeon holes. He has a huge crush on his surfer roommate, a platonically sexual relationship with London (Juno Temple), and a true friendship with his lesbian best friend Stella.
What happens plot-wise is an amorphously wonderful, schlocky, B-movie bit about cults and the end of the world, which feels like it belongs in another film. But the real substance lies in the film’s style. Visually, Araki seems to be channeling Kubrick – the closing shot is an easily identifiable allusion, and some of the psychedelic sections immediately make one recall the stargate sequence from 2001. Perhaps more noticeably, the film draws a lot from Eyes Wide Shut in its frank exploration of sexuality.
But Kubrick isn’t the only director influencing this film; in fact, he is overshadowed by the presence of Douglas Sirk, the 1950’s master of melodrama responsible for Imitation of Life, Written on the Wind, and All That Heaven Allows. Sirk’s critics often chided him for his seemingly trite plots, much like one might do here, but Sirk, too, made a habit of focusing on style, visual aesthetics and human relations, however exaggerated.
Kaboom is an unlikely blend of sexual discovery and science fiction plot elements, where the latter seems an uncanny manifestation of the former. The characters may not develop much more than the plot allows them, but this isn’t a character piece. The plot has few revelations, but it isn’t driven by great truths. This is a film about people and their interactions, about lovers desired and scorned, about how people act in the strangest of ways under the influence of the sweet nectar of desire. So, if you are able to put aside your concerns for the rest of those details, you will find a film that is thoroughly enjoyable, visually stunning, and much, much more than just a movie filled with pretty people having sex.