In the summer of 1991, a sheltered teenage boy comes of age during a wild summer he spends on Cape Cod getting rich from selling pot to gangsters, falling in love for the first time, partyin... Read allIn the summer of 1991, a sheltered teenage boy comes of age during a wild summer he spends on Cape Cod getting rich from selling pot to gangsters, falling in love for the first time, partying and eventually realizing that he is in over his head.In the summer of 1991, a sheltered teenage boy comes of age during a wild summer he spends on Cape Cod getting rich from selling pot to gangsters, falling in love for the first time, partying and eventually realizing that he is in over his head.
The flaws of Hot Summer Nights all derive from its erratic screenplay, which is derivative, juvenile, and incredibly hollow. Bynum has chosen to have the film be narrated by a mostly unseen fringe character--a 13-year-old with a preternatural omniscience concerning the town's gossip. This narration is obnoxious and unnecessary--the best stretch of the movie is the 50 minutes or so where the narration disappears completely--and all it yields are unfunny riffs on sex that belittle the movie's female lead; an air of legendary, larger-than-life status that doesn't quite match the actual movie we're presented; and some incredibly trite observations about class consciousness in a New England tourist town.
That last one is worth thinking about for a moment. The film is introduced as a conflict between haves and have-nots, with townies opposed to summerbirds in a vein similar to Breaking Away or The Outsiders. We're shown preppily dressed vacationers with "white clothes and white teeth," and we're meant to focus on the advantages these privileged people have over our main characters. But the division as presented in this film never rises above mere cliquishness. There's no real material difference that's ever explored in any meaningful way--which is to say, even the "townies" seem pretty well-off to me.
That's one thread that never goes anywhere, but if you start pulling at that thread then the whole thing starts to unravel and you realize you've just got a pile of old rags that was temporarily gussied up to look like something more impressive. Bynum knows how to blend impressive camerawork, solid performances, and a fun soundtrack into something entertaining, but he's put extremely little effort into developing his characters or crafting a meaningful story. That's a shame because Timothée Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Emory Cohen, and the rest of the cast are all very talented and compelling young actors. They nearly succeed in making it seem as though their characters have plausible motivations and consistent personalities, when ultimately what's really going on here is that Bynum just wanted to remake Goodfellas with teenagers.
What drives Daniel Middleton? What does his father's death really have to do with anything? Why does he make the reckless decisions that he does in spite of sound advice to the contrary? What exactly is he trying to prove? What other paths are there for him in life? What other desires, interests, fears, and influences does he have? If you start trying to understand Daniel's character, you see that there's absolutely nothing beneath the surface. Likewise with McKayla. Hunter is given a sliver of nuance, but the action climax--which steals directly from Boogie Nights and Goodfellas--renders all of that moot. This is a movie in which the last word will be given to a 13-year-old speaking wistfully about his sex fantasies. Stand By Me this ain't.
- Sep 1, 2018