'Summer Night' film review: Laid-back, nostalgic take on the angst of adulting
Packed with a talented cast of young actors and several interconnected plot threads, the coming-of-age romantic comedy "Summer Night" (opening in select cities and on VOD July 12) has a lot of moving parts, but it fundamentally captures the essence of youthful heartache, worry and elation.
In short: On the last day of summer, a group of friends confront the complexities of romantic relationships and navigating the space between youth and adulthood. Stars Ellar Coltrane, Analeigh Tipton, Victoria Justice, Ella Hunt and Justin Chatwin.
The "coming of age" label is usually slapped on a story filled with teenagers straddling adolescence and growing up. The genre is essentially defined by youth giving up childish ways and taking some grand next step into maturity. So it's refreshing to explore the delayed immaturity of the early 20s with a pack of characters who are, to varying degrees, tired of living in the vague space after high school, but not yet fully responsible "adults." They're old enough to hold down steady jobs, but not yet set on their careers or even their futures. Old enough to drink and young enough to drink irresponsibly any night of the week.
Setting the bulk of the film against the backdrop of a single night at a small town rock venue gives the story room to breathe. The movie confidently moves at a casual pace, allowing the disarming film to tap into the nostalgia not of particular songs but in the feel of being a carefree young person. "Summer" is less about the story's few specific plot developments than it is about how each characters ruminates on their respective situation. The disparate story threads vary - from an unexpected pregnancy, being dumped, being hung up on a girl or the electric spark of a new relationship - but the common element is each plotline's grounded and melodrama-free progression. The film doesn't attempt to solve each problem or force an epiphany for any character. If anything, what's great about "Summer Night" is how it confidently just allows the characters to work through and react to news that upends their otherwise carefree lives. And the film is OK leaving some characters still uncertain about what's next.
Although virtually every character faces some plot arch, the characters themselves are pretty thin - the byproduct of a pretty compact runtime and a large ensemble cast of characters. To the film's credit, "Summer" smartly invests its time and focus on making each story relatable. And unexpectedly, the lack of detailed character backstory actually works for "Summer." Not bogging down the film with extraneous character details actually makes it easier to step into the shoes of each character as they work through their respective stories. Arguably the one plot with the least amount of character development or even story depth is somehow the most elementally compelling: it's simply a meet-cute that turns into a sweet, guileless romance. The absolute bare minimum is revealed about the guy or the girl - but this one particular plot typifies how well "Summer" captures a feeling rooted in youth and just lets it play on screen, without the need of crazy plot turns or character melodrama.
Final verdict: A well-cast ensemble of up-and-coming actors fills out a satisfying and relatable one-night ridealong with some twentysomethings forced to look adulthood in the eye.
"Summer Night" opens in select cities and on VOD July 12. The romantic comedy has a running time of 98 minutes and is unrated.