Johnny (Brad Pitt) is a man who takes care of his appearance, but there's something missing from the ensemble which includes a towering quiff. He finds that when one night he leaves a nightclub and sees a woman possibly being raped - she doesn't appear to be in any condition to say no - and worried he heads for the nearest phone booth to call the police. However, as he does so there is a crash on top of it and he scrambles out to see a box has landed there. Opening the box he finds what he needs: a pair of black suede shoes...
This was director Tom DiCillo's first film after spending time on New York indie movies, and he certainly showed himself as a man with an eye for casting when he picked a then-unknown Brad Pitt to star in it. Although it was really Thelma & Louise which boosted the actor's profile, that didn't prevent Johnny Suede being given a cash-in push on his newfound fame, offering many more people the chance to see it than would have if he had remained in obscurity, which happened to raise DiCillo's profile as well, though mainly in movie buff circles - he didn't exactly go on to helm Hollywood blockbusters thereafter.
Watching this now it looks like a parody of a nineties indie movie, with all the quirks that entailed, but while there was not quite as much to it as the creators might have intended, there was something about it which evoked a particular New York City atmosphere, that tone of the place which had inspired DiCillo in the first instance. Not quite the love letter to the place that say, Woody Allen's Manhattan had been, this was more content to show the less attractive areas and the main character making his way around it as he attempts to encourage his musical career to take off and gets involved with girlfriends he's not emotionally mature enough to cope with.
First he meets Darlette (Allison Moir) in a nightclub, and although she has a boyfriend already, a photographer who she claims beats her (we know he takes pictures because he carries a camera with him at all times) she latches onto Johnny and he responds, with reservations because if the other man hits Darlette, what will he do to him if he finds out he's being cheated on? This extends to being taken for dinner with the girl's mother (Tina Louise) for awkward conversations suggesting Darlette isn't quite mature enough for this either, which propels Johnny into the arms of Yvonne (indie queen Catherine Keener), a care worker who he saves from a subway pervert and invites her to see his band rehearse.
Although Johnny would deny it, he wishes to emulate the sound of the great fifties rockers, and his songs are pretty absurd though he does perform them with conviction (and his occasional band includes Samuel L. Jackson on double bass), but we can see that he's going precisely nowhere with them. Not even when he meets proper rock star Freak Storm (Nick Cave) and seems to be on the verge of a big break can he capitalise on it, yet DiCillo doesn't seem quite certain whether to show that as Johnny's fault or part of the circumstances. Nor is it clear whether we're meant to sympathise with him or see him as an object of ridicule as he heads towards more obnoxious behaviour when his life reaches a crisis partly of his own unintentional devising, though that does teach him a lesson about how to cope by the end. Another thing that could have been more obvious was if Johnny was simply an idiot, but you do warm to him in spite of his poor choices. Music by Jim Farmer and Link Wray.