Radiant City (2006) is a film about suburbia, urban sprawl, and the mindset of those who call 'the burbs' home (aka the bulk of the North American population). It's meant to be a slice of life, but there's something else going on here.
What I liked about Radiant City was how it brought my attention to the realistic concern of how long we can continue to grow like this - or view growth as simply a matter of construction. The conservationist movement is becoming more prevalent each year, and yet we continue to build cookie-cutter neighbourhoods farther and farther away from actual services. Our society is so dependent on owning a vehicle now that navigating our cities has become less about interaction and more about forming lines.
I was intrigued by the argument that our new idea of community is conflicted with our desire for privacy. Fenced sub-divisions, private transportation, individual cubicles; these cliches of post-modern living have been the subject of debate for decades, but there's a hint of something here that should've been explored in greater detail.
Radiant City, unfortunately, isn't saying enough. Instead of really diving into the stories behind potential alternatives, or possibilities for refurbishment and smart growth, the film dwindles in its final chapter relying on a gimmick to try and prove a separate point. I can understand the logic behind why the filmmakers decided to go this way, but I can't help but feel it only serves to undermine the points that the rest of the film is based on. It's like they didn't have faith that people really cared about the truth behind something most of us could relate to? The facts become lost in a foggy epilogue that derails the argument for the sake of forced poeticism.
Yes the suburbs are big, yes they're wasteful, and yes there are interesting stories as to why we live this way. I wish this documentary was more like the trailer I watched after seeing the film though instead of simply stereotyping the suburban experience as the pursuit of a fantasy - there's more to it than that. People also just need places to live.
While I wouldn't recommend Radiant City based on its merit as an informative documentary, it would still make a great film school lesson in that it offers a lot of material for debate on the choices the filmmakers made in constructing their argument - see the IMDB forum for spoilers on why this is.
In the end the film makes light of suburbia, as it should, to point out that there are perks when living in the sprawl. However, Radiant City ultimately falters on providing a perspective with enough focus to pin-point actual urban development solutions and simply doesn't trust itself enough to be genuine with subject matter this abundantly revealing and available. 5/10