Summer Night

Summer Night

2019, NR, 93 min. Directed by Joseph Cross. Starring Ellar Coltrane, Ian Nelson, Analeigh Tipton, Callan McAuliffe, Ella Hunt, Hayden Szeto, Bill Milner, Lana Condor, Elena Kampouris, Khris Davis, Melina Vidler, Victoria Justice, Justin Chatwin.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., July 12, 2019

"If children are the future, we're fucked," says Seth (Nelson), bemoaning the state of the world in what would be monumental foreshadowing if the audience didn't already know that his girlfriend, grad student Mel (Tipton), is pregnant. Everyone's back home in their small Southern town, back from college, or still there and slacking through life, playing in the kinds of bands that might manage a support slot on a minor tour. Mel's life-changing text seems set to derail one more low-key-fun night in nowheresville for Seth, hanging out with his best friend Jameson (Coltrane), barhopping, seeing pals. But the night still happens, that classic cinematic night where people start to get their lives in order by shooting the shit and talking about nothing and everything.

Casting Richard Linklater's Boyhood star Coltrane isn't the only nod to the master of character-driven anti-structure's work. Summer Night is clearly in the vein of Dazed & Confused and Everybody Wants Some!!. Yet while Linklater determinedly builds period pieces locked to a certain time and place, Summer Fun could have been made at any time in the last 30 years – and that's oddly a strike against it. Considering the ongoing assault on reproductive rights and the torrent of abortion bans, having Mel's friends tell her that she doesn't have to make an immediate decision about her pregnancy seems almost quaint.

Jordan Jolliff's script has occasional sparks of insight about what it's like to be in your mid-20s and going nowhere right now – or, in the case of Jameson, willfully giving up on your options – but first-time feature director Joseph Cross wears his Linklater love too clearly on his sleeve. The opportunity for a contemporary Empire Records (the closest ancestor to this ensemble rom-com) gets lost in a flat structure that doesn't find any real life until the middle act. That's when all paths intersect as the friends hang out for a night at the local club, and Justin Chatwin (American Gothic) gets to shine as philosopher-king/bartender Andy. That's also when Coltrane and Victoria Justice (playing the good-hearted bad girl) really get to grips with those growing-up questions, while club ticket-taker Corin (Before I Fall and Sacred Lies' Kampouris) pines outside. But then, the club sequence really seems to be about showcasing some pretty good local bands, and music supervisor Rylan Soref does a great job assembling both a score and some on-set performances that really capture twentysomething small-town-bar mainstays. But like the repertoire of most bar bands, this all plays out like a cover – competently performed, but the original was better.

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Summer Night, Joseph Cross, Ellar Coltrane, Ian Nelson, Analeigh Tipton, Callan McAuliffe, Ella Hunt, Hayden Szeto, Bill Milner, Lana Condor, Elena Kampouris, Khris Davis, Melina Vidler, Victoria Justice, Justin Chatwin

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