Johnny Suede

Director: Tom DiCillo
Screenwriters: Tom DiCillo

Institute History


Johnny Suede is a young man with the heart of a boy who lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Together with his friend Deke, he aspires to stardom as a musician. His trademark haircut, fashioned after his idol, Ricky Nelson, is supplemented one day by a beautiful pair of exotic black suede shoes he finds on the street—a clear indication, Johnny believes, that success can’t be too far off. However the fine shoes, his shallow posturing, and his misguided talent don’t amount to much, so in the meantime, he takes up painting apartments with Deke—and falling in love with Yvonne. Suddenly life’s possibilities and the tangible future become a set of options Johnny must weigh, which he does with the help of Deke’s well-meaning, but hilariously naïve, advice, and the jaded insights of an over-the-top, down-on-his-luck rocker, Freak Storm. Johnny makes a series of desperate attempts to pursue his dream and follow his heart, with disastrous results which ultimately bequeath him an essential dose of maturity.

Tom DiCillo’s feature-film debut is an unusual moral tale set in the cool nuvo-retro fringes of New York. Johnny Suede judiciously mixes the dark, hard edges that anchor the story in the real world with the delicious humor provided by the solid performances of its actors. With his modest, deadpan delivery, Brad Pitt is an amiable and charming Johnny Suede. Catherine Keener’s portrayal of Yvonne is striking for its hardened wit and honesty and supplies the ideal counterpoint to Johnny’s precocious demeanor. As Johnny’s trusted sidekick Deke, Calvin Levels gives an animated performance which nearly steals the show with its own brand of infectious charm. And finally, Nick Cave turns in a perfect and all-too-knowing portrayal of what could be called Johnny’s ghost of Christmas future, Freak Storm. These unlikely misfits inject life into the weary world of Johnny Suede.

— Alberto Garcia

Screening Details

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