Cities creep out further every year, suburbs scuttling across the countryside like crabs through a young student population. Recently, urban sprawl has come under fire from environmentalists, city planners, and now, filmmakers.
Radiant City is a documentary that follows the Moss family through their typical suburban lifestyle. While it would be tempting for most filmmakers to focus on the effect of suburbia on cities, the co-writer/director team of Calgary natives Gary Burns and Jim Brown also give due attention to the people who live in the stucco monstrosities.
Therein lies the inherent flaw of the film: your typical suburbanite family is pretty goddamn boring. Coupled with the fact that the documentary has never been the most actively engaging film style, Radiant City often fails to keep audiences' attention through its long-winded speeches from city planners and experts on tangential topics. Those who stick it out are rewarded with some genuinely compelling drama from the Moss', but the casual viewer, or those who find themselves disimpassioned with the documentary style won't find a lot to love.
There's a twist about three-quarters of the way through the film, and while it helps to speed up the labourious pace, it ends up coming off as contrived. A myriad of small flaws like this don't prevent Radiant City from being a competent documentary or even a good film, but they often make it feel as if Burns and Brown were trying to create a dramatic suburban dystopia, but could only get the funding for a documentary. The result is dry, scatterbrained and, at times, forced.
Radiant City is worth seeing for genre junkies, and is an interesting diversion for anyone who's ever lived in a suburb. Unfortunately, a lack of poignancy and confused messages tragically prevent it from being more than clever, dark and ultimately mediocre.