We have seen this movie before – young people, with high school behind them, wonder if they should stay in the small town where everybody knows them and they know everybody, or if it’s time to get out in the Big World (always, it seems, L.A. or New York).
In “Summer Night,” the kids have been pondering their “should I stay or should I go” dilemma for a couple of years. They are now in their early twenties and have a growing suspicion that they are missing out on opportunities.
“That was us, once,” one of them says, as he watches two junior high boys try to talk their teacher into buying them cigarettes.
“Still is,” his friend answers.
The young men we meet in “Summer Night” can best be described as ‘failures to launch.” They can’t quite take the step from boyhood to adulthood. While the girls in their lives are mature women set on a future beyond retailing and waitressing, these man-boys are content drifting through life, waiting for something to happen. Until it does, excitement is provided by beer, drugs and performing with various bands at a downtown bar.
The gang’s one settled man, Luke (played by Khris Davis), seems content with having a job, a wife, and a child. This is anathema to Seth (Ian Nelson), whose girlfriend Mel (Analeigh Tipton) has just announced an unexpected, and very much unwanted, pregnancy. Mel’s housemate Lexi (Lana Condor), meanwhile, has told her almost-boyfriend Rabbit (Bill Milner), a painfully shy boy, that she accidentally lost her virginity at a wedding.
Jameson (Ellar Coltrane) is a teacher trying to decide if this really is a career he wants to pursue. He can’t make up his mind about girlfriends either. Will it be hot new date Harmony (Victoria Justice), or trusty forever-friend Carin (Elena Kampouris)?
A conventional love story takes place between Taylor (Callan McAuliffe) and Dana (Ella Hunt). They meet ridiculously cute: Taylor has been jumped on and beat up by “Deliverance”-type hoods and Dana, sitting nearby on a riverbank, reading(!), patches him up.
Writer Jordan Jolliff has ambitiously concocted intersecting storylines for thirteen characters. Some roles are meatier than others, and an attractive, competent cast lends authenticity to the goings-on. Director Joseph Cross, a veteran actor and former child star here presenting his feature film debut, succeeds in weaving all the strands together for a satisfying ending.
The contemplative action – this is a character piece – takes place during a 24-hour period in what the film’s production notes call “a small town in Northern California” but it could just as well have been a small town in Northern Georgia. In fact, the mountain laurel and swimming holes in the nature scenes looks suspiciously like the ones in our own Chattahooche National Forest. Not surprisingly, “Summer Night” was filmed in Atlanta and Newnan, GA.
“Summer Night” is the kind of small, independent film that Georgia has become known for delivering on time, without much fuss, thanks to the myriad of capable professionals that make up our successful film industry.
Let’s hope it continues to flourish.