Wren (Susan Berman) has a habit of taking advantage and believes this ability to make it in the tough world of showbiz will see her through. Unfortunately for her, she greatly overestimates that ability, which explains why she has not moved up the ladder of success from what is not even its lowest rung: she is not anywhere near the ladder in the first place. She has moved from New Jersey to Greenwich Village in New York City to follow her dream, but even then is unclear on the form that dream should take, something vague about managing a band perhaps, piggybacking on the success of others could generate the life she wishes for. But things are never going to be that easy...
Smithereens was writer and director Susan Seidelman making her feature debut after a couple of shorts created in film school in New York and played out very much as you would expect a film crafted in the loser milieu of that city's most impoverished would do. She was blessed in that she demonstrated some talent, however raw it was at this stage, where the characters here were damned both by not enjoying any genuine opportunities and not having the wherewithal to capitalise on them if they did. In its manner it represented a descent into a lonely Hell that she could have been plunged into had things refused to go her way, an alternate reality for her.
Fortunately, the welcome Smithereens received was to lead to Desperately Seeking Susan, which was the sort of anti-Smithereens in that it too consisted of a woman trying to find herself in the same location, but there everything was fun and exciting, almost like a fantasy of how an outsider anticipated a move to New York would go. The cynics might have preferred to believe this earlier work was more accurate, since in real life there was not often a safety net should you choose the wrong path in life, especially if you were too stubborn to recognise it really wasn't succeeding for you and you would be wiser to try circumstances less fraught for failure, or danger for that matter.
Wren has no such self-awareness, though she has self-centredness to make up for that in abundance, a sense of entitlement that even someone with absolute faith in their golden future may have balked at. She does pick up a fan in the first couple of minutes of the film, as Paul (Brad Rijn) has recently arrived in his decorated van from Montana, another seeker after fortune, though we can tell he is too nice a guy not to get chewed up and spat out by the unforgiving urban existence he has let himself in for. Wren initially ignores him, more or less, but then when she is locked out of her apartment because she is broke and can't pay her rent, he becomes a useful idiot who thinking he is doing her a favour, and therefore proving what a decent chap he is, does little but highlight doormats are made for walking over.
There were no stars here - apart from one, the punk icon, after a fashion, Richard Hell, who represented the object of Wren's desire as he seems to have his foot in the door of success. "Seems" being the operative word, for he is merely stringing her and others along to keep his head above water, and his habit of giving the woman fans he has a big kiss on the lips to win them over is disappointingly effective. One by one the opportunities are closed to Wren, so that eventually she would be her own worst enemy if others were not so keen to dismiss her once they got wise to how she carried herself. Smithereens was unremitting in its stark, brutal treatment of its characters: this is before New York was cleaned up and an air of seventies punk hangover permeates every frame, where if you were not already interested in what that was like could prove daunting, and it was plainly a low budget enterprise. But its feeling for authenticity was hard to shake, as was its refusal to allow anyone hope. Music by Glenn Mercer and Bill Million of The Feelies.
[This has been released on Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection. As extras, an audio commentary, interview featurette and two early short Seidelman films are included.]