Smithereens (film)

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DVD cover of Smithereens.jpg
DVD cover
Directed by Susan Seidelman
Produced by Joanne Gross
Susan Seidelman
Written by Peter Askin
Ron Nyswaner
Susan Seidelman
Starring Susan Berman
Cinematography Chirine El Khadem
Edited by Susan Seidelman
Release dates
  • September 11, 1982 (1982-09-11)
Running time
89 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Smithereens is a 1982 film directed by Susan Seidelman and starring Susan Berman, Brad Rinn, and punk rock icon Richard Hell. The film follows a narcissistic young woman from New Jersey who comes to New York City to join the punk subculture, only to find that it's gravitated towards Los Angeles; in order to pay her way across country, she engages in a number of parasitic relationships, shifting her allegiances to new "friends" in an ongoing effort to ultimately endear herself to someone who will finance her desired lifestyle.

Smithereens marked the debut of Oscar-nominated screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) and features a score by The Feelies. It was the first American independent film invited to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.[1]


Wren (Susan Berman) is a runaway from New Jersey who has come to New York in the hopes of becoming a figure in the punk rock scene, only to find that the movement has largely died down on the East Coast and is now centered in Los Angeles. Wren finds herself relegated to sneaking into the city's remaining punk hot spot, the Peppermint Lounge, to try to ingratiate herself with the bands that play there, in the hopes that one of them will land a record deal and take her to L.A. with them. Discovering that no one is interested in helping a young upstart while trying to solidify their own careers—or even in taking Wren on as a groupie—Wren instead engages in a campaign to litter the city with photocopied pictures of herself bearing the legend "WHO IS THIS?" in an attempt to develop sufficient mystique around herself to pique the interest of a promoter. Though she intermittently works at a xerox shop by day, Wren nominally uses her position there in order to surreptitiously print out her fliers, and supplements her lifestyle by stealing from unsuspecting women in the subway station.

One night while distributing her posters, Wren runs across Paul (Brad Rijn), a young man from Montana in the middle of a road trip who has briefly taken up residence in the city before heading on to New England. Though he lives in the back of his dilapidated van, Paul has managed to achieve a greater level of stability in New York than Wren has, and when he expresses romantic interest in her, Wren quickly takes advantage of his company in order to exploit him for whatever means of support he might provide. The initial relationship turns out to be short lived; out on a date, the couple meet Eric (Richard Hell), former member of Smithereens, a one-hit-wonder punk group from the 1970s. Though he's now unemployed and living in the apartment of another punk named Billy (Roger Jett), Eric professes to be putting together a new group that will soon be headed to Los Angeles. Wren quickly ditches Paul for Eric and briefly moves in with him, only to leave after running into conflict with the lascivious Billy and an unnamed blonde woman who also lives in the apartment and whom Eric seems to rely on for financial support.

Returning to her own apartment, Wren discovers that her roommates have fled in her absence and that her landlady has locked her out for being behind four months on her share of the rent. She initially tracks down her brother and sister-in-law in an attempt to get a loan, but the blue collar new parents are unnable to afford to give Wren anything—nor inclined to help her out after she's jilted them on loans in the past. Wren then attempts to seek refuge with one of her co-workers, only to find that the woman already lives with several other girls and that their landlord is threatening eviction if they bring anyone else into the already cramped apartment. With nowhere else to go, Wren tracks down Paul in the vacant lot where he keeps his van and guilts him into helping her break into her old apartment to retrieve her things. The two resume an uneasy relationship, with Paul allowing Wren to sleep in the back of his van at night. Though Paul attempts to develop a real friendship with Wren, she is only interested in using him for shelter and financial support.

Eric ultimately tracks down Wren and tells her that they are set to go to Los Angeles, but that they need the capital in order to finance their trip. Wren and Eric go to an upscale nightclub where Wren identifies and picks up the wealthiest patron, who agrees to take her back to his hotel for sex; when they get into a taxi, Eric slips in beside them and holds the man at gunpoint. Eric and Wren rob the man and then flee the taxi, returning to Eric's apartment to count their loot. Finding that they've made enough money to go to LA, Wren leaves to collect her things from Paul's van, pausing only to tell him that he can have her portable TV because she finds it too heavy to carry around by herself. Returning to Eric's apartment, Wren learns from Billy that Eric has taken all of their money and gone to LA by himself. Confronting the nameless woman in the stairwell, Wren learns that she is Eric's wife (whom he's also abandoned), and that he has a history of picking up vulnerable women to exploit for his own financial gain.

Desperate, Wren again attempts to get support from her co-workers and family, all of whom turn her down. Returning to Paul's van, Wren learns that he's sold it to a local pimp who wants to use it to transport his stable of prostitutes, and that Paul used the money to travel to New England. Entering the van a final time, Wren discovers that Paul left behind her TV set, as well as a watercolor portrait he'd done of her.

Dirty, homeless, and struggling to keep her possessions together, Wren wanders the city until she's propositioned by a man in a convertible who may or may not be a pimp; though she initially brushes off the man's advances, his admonishment that she has nowhere else to go causes her to turn back towards his car.



This film was one of the first American independent films to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival. Lead actress Susan Berman had no prior experience acting in a film. She was picked out of a theater crowd of an off-Broadway play by director Susan Seidelman to be in this film. In the words of Berman, "The only ones in the crowd were friends of the actors, or someone who knew someone who was involved. After the performance, these two people walked up to me and offered me a role in a feature length movie." For preparation, director Susan Seidelman told her actress Susan Berman to see the Federico Fellini film "Nights of Cabiria" before beginning to research her role. Seidelman used friends from her days as a student at NYU as a crew.


Janet Maslin of The New York Times said of the film, "Smithereens gets off to a fast start, thanks to Susan Berman's feisty performance and the vitality with which her story is told." and "Although willful inactivity seems a crucial part of the characters' way of life, it's carried too far; everyone here stays put a little longer than is believable, particularly Paul, who remains parked by the highway for what feels like weeks, with nothing to do but wait for Wren to appear."

Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader said, "Wren, in her self-delusion, manipulativeness, and superficiality, easily ranks as one of the most obnoxious characters in film history, and she exerts a strange fascination. Yet Seidelman doesn't offer a very interesting perspective on her: her dislike of her character is so evident and uninflected that you soon start to wonder why she wanted to make the film at all."


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Smithereens". Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  2. ^ Mallory Curley, A Cookie Mueller Encyclopedia, Randy Press, 2010.

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