Its setting may be a sleepy small town, but there’s an awful lot going on in Joseph Cross’ directorial debut featuring a gallery of twentysomething characters dealing with emotional crises. Reminiscent of such similarly coming-of-age themed predecessors as The Last Picture Show, American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused and countless others, Summer Night wears its influences a little too heavily on its sleeve. Fortunately, its talented and appealing young ensemble make it go down as easily as a cold beer on a hot…well, you know.
Taking place in the sort of nondescript rural hamlet in which young people cool off by diving into a local swimming pond (the movie was largely filmed in Newnan, Georgia), the story revolves around numerous friends whose lives intersect toward the end of summer. The common denominator seems to be The Alamo, the (too symbolically) named watering hole where they all seem to be headed, either as performers or customers, at the end of the day.
The cast shines even when the material doesn’t.
You practically need a spreadsheet to keep track of the characters. Jameson (Ellar Coltrane, displaying the same soulfulness as in Boyhood) is torn between the supremely self-possessed Harmony (Victoria Justice) and his on-again, off-again girlfriend Corin (Elena Kampouris, Before I Fall), who works at The Alamo. His best friend Seth (Ian Nelson) discovers, much to his agitation, that his girlfriend Mel (Analeigh Tipton, Two Night Stand) is pregnant. Taylor (Callan McAuliffe, The Great Gatsby), a drummer who will be playing in one of the rock bands at The Alamo, is robbed and beaten up by strangers in the woods and is patched up by Dana (Ella Hunt, Anna and the Apocalypse), who admits that she’s long had a crush on him. Lexi (Lana Condor, To All the Boys I’ve Loved) confesses to her longtime friend Rabbit (Bill Milner, X-Men: First Class), who has long harbored feelings for her, that she slept with a stranger at her sister’s wedding.
And those are just the major characters, with many others hovering on the sidelines. Providing comic relief throughout is Andy (a very funny Justin Chatwin, Shameless), a bartender at The Alamo who acts as a sort of Greek chorus commenting on the younger characters’ foibles.
It’s all a lot to take in, and first-time director Cross sometimes has trouble navigating the heavy traffic in Jordan Jolliff’s screenplay. But the helmer’s longtime acting experience (Flags of Our Fathers, Big Little Lies) serves him well here, helping him elicit terrific work from the large ensemble who work seamlessly together. Even when the situations border on cliché, such as Mel and Seth’s anxiety over the possibility of becoming parents, the actors manage to make us emotionally invested in their characters.
The film also includes numerous well-shot musical sequences featuring several Athens, Georgia, bands, augmented by several of the actors, that provide effective bridges between the dramatic scenes.
Summer Night is ultimately stronger on languorous atmospherics than plotting, lacking the narrative substance necessary to overcome its general derivativeness. Nonetheless, the pic provides an effective showcase for its talented young cast and tyro director.
Production companies: Moving Image Productions, Wanderwell Entertainment, Blackhall Entertainment Ventures
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Ian Nelson, Analeigh Tipton, Callan McAuliffe, Ella Hunt, Hayden Szeto, Bill Milner, Lana Condor, Elena Kampouris, Kris Davis, Melina Vidler, Victoria Justice, Justin Chatwin
Director: Joseph Cross
Screenwriter: Jordan Jolliff
Producers: Joseph Cross, Audrey Tommassini, Tara Ansley
Executive producers: Andrew Cross, James Cross, Nick DeKay, Jane Nerlinger Evans, Lucas Evans, Constance FitzMaurice, Stephen Fowler, Brian Gimlett, Lauren Gimlett, Nicholas Hertz, Eric Hooge, Erinn Knight, Charlie Mainardi, Todd A. Marks, Ryan Millsap, Wanda Morganstern, Bruna Nogueira, James Ponsoldt
Director of photography: Michael FitzMaurice
Production designer: Mark Tanner
Editor: Raymond Wood
Composer: Dan Krysa
Costume designer: Erinn Knight