Upon first blush Summer Night may have the feeling of an aimless and lackadaisical coming-of-age tale, and to be frank there is a certain charm within the space. Director Joe Cross’ debut feature thankfully goes much deeper sans the heavy handed message, leaving us with an easygoing yet ultimately memorable tale.
Set in a small town in North California, Summer Night centers on a group of friends who are getting ready for a big night of socializing at a local rock hangout called The Alamo. Though it’s an ensemble driven tale, the de facto lead is Jameson (Ellar Coltrane), a teacher who, whether he knows it or not, simply wants to hang with his layabout buddies.
His crew includes Seth (Ian Nelson), another seemingly chill guy who becomes unnerved as he deals with his girlfriend Mel’s (Analeigh Tipton) pregnancy. Taylor (Callan McAuliffe) is the cool rocker of the bunch, and he’s starting to fall head over hears for a slightly younger and more innocent soul named Dana (Ella Hunt, lighting each scene she’s in). Also thrown into the mix is Rabbit (The Lodgers’ Bill Milner), a virgin who needs to sort out his feelings with his close friend Lexi (Lana Condor).
Life of the party Andy (Justin Chatwin) and equally down for anything Caleb (Hayden Szeto) are the carefree birds of the lot, as they cling to their salad days with wild abandon.
Jameson is also juggling a potential love interest in a supremely confident (but not cocky) Harmony (Victoria Justice) and his ex Corin (Elena Kampouris, who was absolutely unforgettable as the bullied teen in Before I Fall), a girl whom he still holds all too dear to his heart.
With so many stories to juggle, director Joseph Cross manages to keep the tale as seamless as can be, interweaving stories sans in an easygoing and seemingly effortless fashion. An experienced actor himself, Cross (Running With Scissors, Big Little Lies) lands engaged performances from all of the actors, and each of them gets their respective moment to shine.
Ellar Coltrane is best known as the lead in director Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and ironically some viewers may see Summer Night as a spiritual cousin to Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. While that comparison may be valid, Summer Night’s coming-of-age arc centers on early twentysomethings on the heels of actually becoming responsible adults. And even if they are probably more mature than they care to admit (i.e. Justin Chatwin’s Andy), some continue in this state of arrested development (at least for another night).
In my thirties I lived in Downtown Los Angeles, where all of my friends congregated at the nearby Omni Hotel for Happy Hour. As the night meandered on, and we ventured from place to place, bonds were made and broken, and unspoken realizations would occasionally creep in amidst our inebriated states.
If you’ve survived your twenties, or for that matter singlehood, you know a thing or two about wandering in circles for a little bit of escapism, and thankfully Summer Night is not all about sunshine and laughter.
There is a small moment in Summer Night where Harmony and Jameson are getting to know each other over drinks. Harmony, at least towards Jameson, is an open book, and she subtly reflects on a brief career that maybe could have been. Jameson respectfully makes a crack at wanting to see some of her photos, leading to a shared laugh.
I never imagined Victoria Justice and Ellar Coltrane as a pair of prospective lovers, but Cross had the wherewithal to know this seemingly mismatched chemistry could work. The rest of the film I actually wanted to see where this relationship could go, but since this is a story of so many individuals living it up for one evening, very few plotlines end up neatly tied together.
The multiple story arcs may frustrate some viewers, but Cross’ decision to mainly split this group into pairs (many scenes rest on person to person conversations) absolutely won me over. Though the Justice and Coltrane coupling was my personal favorite, there was still enough storytelling goodness to keep me satisfied.
Ultimately Summer Night may feel like a fleeting time at the movies, but what more can you expect from an evening? As Justice, Coltrane, and the rest of the invested ensemble proves, some days are just better than others.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Summer Night is now playing in theaters and is available on VOD.
To check out the latest episode of CinemAddicts, a podcast I co-host with Anderson Cowan, take a listen below!