As someone who lives urbanely by choice, I was attracted to the idea of seeing Radiant City. Itís a (somewhat) documentary critiquing sub-urban culture, a subject which I have viewed with disgust for a long time. I was eager to see how this film was going to take all you silly suburbanites and put you in your place.
One of the best parts of Radiant City, and there are lots of them, is how it doesnít do that. Sure, the central thesis of Radiant City is that there is something unhealthy and unsustainable about North American suburban sprawl, but the film is more complicated than that. It talks about the real reasons people choose to live there. It turns out that people in the suburbs arenít stupid. Who knew?
Radiant City does what all good films do, it manages to be very entertaining and fun to experience. Gary Burns (Waydowntown) and Jim Brown direct a group of actors playing a suburban family talking about their suburban lives. In the middle the opinions of experts (who all turn out to be endlessly engaging) are thrown in along with a surprising amount of statistics that even make a suburb hater like me surprised. The film educates and entertains.
Radiant City pulls this brilliant step of building to a very constructed climax which it allows to fall apart in front of our eyes leading to a reveal that the characters are all actors. We then get to hear directly from them and how their own real life experiences made their way into the film. The film is constructed and has an artificial element to its structure (appropriate for a film on this subject) yet it owns that and uses it to its advantage. In that way Radiant City brilliantly manages to be the best of both worlds, a bridge between fiction and reality.
Radiant City works because it engages its audience to challenge how they feel about sprawl whether you love the burbs or hate Ďem. It gives the subject its critiquing a fair shot and is infinitely better for it. It challenges our management of growth without condescending to think it has the answers. It also manages to be very funny and fun all the way through.
I canít wait to see what Burns has up his sleeve next.