'Say You Will': Seattle International Film Festival movie review
A meek boy hangs out with his high school crush in a video store for the summer. That's the setup - and the indie drama "Say You Will" (screening at the 43rd Seattle International Film Festival starting June 8) springs off that light-sounding premise to develop a compelling drama about that turbulent period between being a kid and becoming an adult.
In short: Awkward high school graduate Sam (Travis Tope, "Boardwalk Empire") cares for his grieving mother after his father's suicide. Meanwhile he also navigates his first relationship with his long-time crush Ellie (Katherine Hughes, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl").
On its face, "Say You Will" seems like pretty standard film festival indie fare. Sam's family is teetering on falling apart. He spends his summer between senior year and music school working at a video store just to spend time with his Ellie. The first act sets up a standard issue coming-of-age flick - one that could have just been a nice and possibly satisfying movie. Then the film makes a surprising and welcome character reveal - one that elevates Ellie way beyond "simple love interest" and gives greater dramatic context to Sam's situation.
Most romantic dramas prioritize relationship over story, which is the cinematic equivalent of putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable. "Say You Will" roots Sam and Ellie's relationship in their shared experiences - both have been thrust into adulthood earlier than they expected and neither has the benefit of a parental figure to help guide them. So they have to help each other. Their relationships allows Sam and Ellie to more fully explore and deal with their own uncertainties. This film uses its romantic relationship to advance the more personal dramatic elements.
The look and feel of this film is infused with the angst and freedom of that summer before adulting. Writer-director Nick Naveda has crafted a movie reminiscent of that crossroads - a summer that is somehow carefree and absolutely terrifying. The film's main plot points are exaggerated versions of the quintessential worries that teens on the edge of adulthood feel: pondering what the uncertain future holds. While its safe to assume much of this film is rooted in semi-autobiographical roots, this film could have easily been set in the modern day. The subtle fact that it takes place in the mid-2000s immediately throws viewers-of-a-certain-age back to memories that simultaneously feel immediate and long ago. Nostalgia has a stigma to it, but this film is nostalgic to an ephemeral feeling and not just the trappings of a specific year.
Final verdict: "Say You Will" initially sets up would could have been a paint-by-numbers teen flick and gives its fleshed-out, dimensional characters real problems to confront. The third act hits the nail a little-too-perfectly on the head - but its familiar tone, dimensional characters and cast of quirky supporting characters make this a surprising and entertaining drama.
"Say You Will" screens at SIFF 2017. This drama is not yet rated and has a running time of 97 minutes.