Genre: Coming-of-age drama
Length: 120 minutes
Director: Elijah Bynum
Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe, Maia Mitchell, Thomas Jane, William Fichtner
Review: Connie Wilson
writer/director Elijah Bynum’s coming-of-age film “Hot Summer Nights.” It played to a packed
house at the Paramount Theater at SXSW with all major stars in attendance.
Set in 1991 Cape Cod (really filmed in Atlanta, Georgia) , “Hot Summer Nights” stars Timothée
Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name, “Interstellar”), Maika Monroe (“It Follows,” Independence Day
2”), Alex Roe (“The 5th Wave,” “Rings”) and Maia Mitchell (“The Fosters”), with appearances by
Emory Cohen (“Brooklyn,” “The Place Beyond the Pines”), Thomas Jane (“Hung,” “The Punisher”)
and William Fichtner (“The Dark Knight,” “Armageddon”).
Daniel’s mother sends him away to his Aunt’s to spend the summer of 1991 in Cape
Cod. Young Daniel at first finds himself friendless in Hyannis, Massachusetts..
Daniel’s not really a “townie” and he’s not one of the rich kids visiting for the summer. According to the voice-over, “Something changed inside of Daniel Middleton that summer he turned 13.” Thirteen seemed too young for what happens in the rest of the film. If Daniel is only there for the summer, how is he able to drive a hot car throughout the film, including in an opening scene car crash during a hurricane?
Daniel drifts into a friendship with the classic James Dean style bad boy in town,
a blonde hunk with the unfortunate character name Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe). Hunter is
the stereotypical screw-up. He has been kicked out of high school and also has been kicked out of
the house by his widowed father. Now he sells marijuana to tourists and locals. Daniel throws in
with him with a vengeance, despite Hunter’s uncontrollable anger issues. Hunter’s sister Michaela (Maika Monroe) is angry with Hunter for not giving up selling pot;
it was their mother’s one request of her son during her final illness, when Michaela was eleven.
Daniel becomes allied with cool-stud-in-town Hunter when he helps him out by hiding some weed
Hunter has on his person while he is being stalked by the local cop, Sergeant Frank Calhoun.
Hunter takes up romantically with Frank’s daughter, Amy Calhoun. This liaison is certain to
cause problems for Amy at home, if her parents find out.
Meanwhile, Daniel unwisely finds himself irresistibly drawn to the brooding Michaela.
Hunter makes it clear that he is overly protective of his younger sibling and forbids Daniel (whom he
calls “Danny”) to date her. That, of course, soon goes out the window, setting up romantic
scenes between Daniel and Michaela. Director Bynum shared with the audience, after the film, that the plot was one he heard while in college.
Said Bynum, “I’m from Massachusetts, but from a different part of the state. The story came
from a couple of kids I knew in college. They talked about two drug dealers who, as their business
grew, their friendship also grew, and then both disappeared. I was always intrigued by that.”
The principal actors all did a good job in their roles, especially the two male leads. The
cinematography by Javier Julia was fine. He also worked in actual film footage from Hurricane
Bob, which was a key element in the plot. Those in charge of the music (Will Bates and Liz
Gallagher) also did a good job, including David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and “All the Young Dudes,”
among others from the era.
The plot has some problems. For one thing, early on the lead character’s age (Daniel) is set at
thirteen. If Daniel is only thirteen, how can he spend most of the movie driving and doing a number of other things more appropriate for older teens)? And, when Daniel is driving, he is driving a car so hot that it would draw unwanted attention to a drug dealer trying to operate without being apprehended. Not only would the cops be a problem, what about Michaela Strawberry? Doesn’t she wonder where Daniel, who lives with his Aunt Bar (who is poor) has gotten the money for these wheels? And how could the young couple possibly hide their romance from her brother Or, conversely, how could Michaela not know that Daniel was her brother’s new accomplice in the drug trade? Also, given Hunter’s explosive temper, which we see unleashed with a fury when Daniel is threatened, what would the conversation with Amy’s policeman father (Thomas Jane) really have been like? It seemed unusually tame on both sides I also had problems with the way the writer/director has chosen to end the film.
I was never sure who the young person at the window was (supposedly doing the voice over)
and the ending is almost as bad and as big a trope as the themes that my junior high school students used to turn in
where the ending was always, “And then he woke up and it was all a dream.” It almost seemed as though no one had Beta read Writer/Director Elijah Bynum’s script before it got to the big screen. Each of the principal actors talked about the script as their reason for buying into the first-time director’s project, but, for me, the script had holes wide enough to drive a Mack truck through and an unsatisfying ending.
On the positive side, it’s a good first directorial effort, with good music, fine cinematography and
some promising newcomers in the cast. For me, Alex Roe was the break-out star, but all four of
the main characters are promising.
I’d give the film, overall, an “A” for effort and a low “B-/C+” for execution. However, I’ll be interested in watching the budding careers of the four principal characters as they are cast in other projects.