A24 (2018)

 

Director: Elijah Bynum

 

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe, Maia Mitchell, William Fichtner, Thomas Jane

Had a few hot summer nights this summer, phew…

 

With Hot Summer Nights, debutant director Elijah Bynum teleports us back to the early nineties, though in this story there are no flannel shirts, angry guitars or Teen Spirit to be found anywhere. It all seemed a bit…nicer back then anyway. Rising stars Timothée Chalamet and Maika Monroe lend some youthful star power to a story of young lust, drugs, sun and cool cars – and a whole heap of nostalgia. Nostalgia that is sometimes overstressed.

Sent to his relatives in Cape Cod for the summer, Daniel Middleton (Chalamet) is a shy, awkward teen lacking in any real social skills. An encounter with famed local bad boy/dealer/hunk Hunter Strawberry (Roe) soon thrusts Daniel into the dangerous and lucrative world of weed – and also into the attention of Hunter’s sister McKayla (Monroe), the girl all the boys’ dream of. As the money rolls in and their lives get richer, Daniel soon realises he wants more – whatever the cost may be. Whether he is ready to face the music is another story.

 

Packed with scenes of scorching summer and vibrant colours, Hot Summer Nights sure looks good. The 90’s vibes are strong and well-replicated – even when the references are firmly on the nose (Terminator 2 scenes and huge nods to Boogie Nights and Blow, amongst others), and Bynum does well offsetting the cheery backdrop with a story that doesn’t reflect the joyful season. It’s the story itself that is the weakest aspect of the movie, which is a shame as everything else was pretty much great.

 

Chalamet plays the socially awkward outcast excellently and Alex Roe is genuine and first-rate as the local James Dean – and it’s his story that is perhaps the most believable. Sadly, Maika Monroe is tasked with shooting seductive glances, sucking lollipops and really being nothing more than eye-candy – it’s very much a waste of her talent. In a cameo appearance, William Fichtner is just ace.

 

The performances go a long way to overshadow some iffy plot points – i.e. the uncomfortable teen becoming a supremely confident drug dealer literally overnight, Hunter’s unexplained reasons for not wanting Daniel near his sister, a hurricane just turns up – and these moments are frustratingly the major plot points within the movie. Things just seem to happen conveniently as the story requires and sometimes without any real set up. Some of the writing is questionable at best – an intimate moment between Chalamet and Monroe comes across as more of a “phew” moment for him rather than a key life moment for her. When the movie reaches the third act, it suddenly veers off-course into a seemingly random territory that is heavy-fisted and wholly unconvincing. There are certain moments that are played for emotion that don’t pay off fully, but when they do, they are indeed satisfying.

 

Whilst the belief that Daniel and Hunter would hit it off so quickly and well isn’t entirely plausible, the two actors work well together and their partnership on-screen provides the movie's highlights. Even if the story crumbles the further it unravels, it is, in fact, engaging and fun to follow. All of the coming-of-age conventions rear their heads and you really want the key characters to succeed – even if you’ve seen enough of these movies to know where everyone is headed. Add to that a pretty killer soundtrack and you have yourself an interestingly unbalanced affair.

 

Hot Summer Nights is a movie that delights in its flaws, smothers itself in nostalgia and plays tone roulette, yet somehow remains highly entertaining, effortlessly cool and delivers some awesome performances – without them, this could’ve been disastrous.

September 18th 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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