Human Traffic Justin Kerrigan
Published May 01, 2000The excesses and rebellion of today's lost youth make earlier generations seem pretty tame, lame and secure. The only thing Generation X is missing is its movie, the one that truly encompasses all there is to say about being young and confused in our time. There have been brave failures like Larry Clark's Kids and David Fincher's Fight Club, neither of which had the emotional depth or objective clarity of such classics as Rebel Without a Cause, The Graduate or Taxi Driver. Even Trainspotting, the best film made about outcast young people in the 90s, didn't quite get there. Is our generation too shallow to inspire or make a powerful youth movie, or under the shadow of its predecessors?
Add to the list of failures Justin Kerrigan's comedy Human Traffic, which takes on Britain's club scene. It was reportedly a smash in Europe last year, and some have compared it to Trainspotting; 26-year-old writer-director Kerrigan certainly has a wild time mimicking Danny Boyle's camera angles and editing rhythms in his film debut. If only Kerrigan's script had the substance to match his cinematic energy.
The film follows the exploits and insecurities of five West London friends in a world of drugs, sex, techno music, dancing, and pop culture references. Jip (John Simm) is the Renton character here, the brash, witty, irreverent narrator who slaves his way through a dead-end job at a department store, then escapes at night through partying and clubbing. His biggest dilemma, however, is that he is impotent, and afraid of others finding out. His buddy Koop (Shaun Parkes), who hustles vinyl records, is jealous of his flirtatious girlfriend Nina (Nicola Reynolds), and Nina's sexy friend Lulu (Lorraine Pilkington) considers herself an "asshole magnet" in the bed-hopping department. These 20-somethings go for a wild weekend in Cardiff, Wales, where they club, get stoned, screw, and whine about their anxieties.
Traffic's in-your-face, MTV-esque pace and tone will bore (even embarrass) some viewers who may not "get it" because they're not, like, hip enough, yo. The satire and social observation have no more subtlety than anvils falling on your head, resorting too often to camera tricks, bombastic fantasy sequences, and silly surrealism to get the point across. Often you're not quite sure what that point is. When Nina quits her job after being sexually harassed by her boss, then proudly announces to fantasy news reporters, "I am now one of the two million!" we're supposed to react, but how? Are we supposed to laugh, or cheer, or cheer ironically?
Other parts, surprisingly, rip off Woody Allen (the anti-hip!) rather than Trainspotting. The movie borrows many ideas from Annie Hall, particularly in one scene that uses subtitles to show what characters really mean when they speak, and in Jip's constant joking aside to the camera. But Kerrigan doesn't have the life experience to satirize life's absurdities as complexly as Allen does. Most of Traffic's meta-cinematic tricks come off not as clever narrative technique but as cute gimmicks. A few of them aren't even cute; they're just juvenile and trite, such as Jip's and Nina's bosses being caricatured as drooling perverts.
Human Traffic is an excellent title for a movie about the club scene. It describes an anti-social night world in which everyone is out purely for his/her own enjoyment and oblivious to the presence of others; thus humans are nothing more than passing or interfering traffic. There are moments in Kerrigan's film that hint at this theme, but the whole can't live up to its title. It's too superficial, and as aimless and unfocused as the characters it depicts.