Timothee Chalamet was my break out star of 2017. The young man oozed with charisma, sex-appeal, and charm. He was in a close-knit race for best performance by an actor for me, with that of Daniel Kaluuya providing stiff competition. Least to say, I was anticipating whatever he decided to do next, and Elijah Bynum’s “Hot Summer Nights” is not what I expected.
This time around he’s depicting Daniel, a young boy from northern Massachusetts whose father has recently passed away, making his life troublesome for both him and his now widowed mother. He’s sent away to stay with his aunt on the Cape for the summer where this tourist-trap of a beach town becomes fruition. The local legends, the nicknames for the locals, the “townies,” and the “summer bird” tourists who ride around in their yachts, luxury cars, and cardigans wrapped around their collars.
Daniel (Timothee Chalamet) is an in-between kind of guy, one who is both a “townie” and a “summer bird.” He befriends the town legend, Hunter (Alex Roe), who introduces him to marijuana. He discovers the magic of Mary Jane and urges Hunter (Alex Roe) to think bigger, which seemingly comes out of nowhere, and begins our well-designed, but empty experience. Though I can proudly say that Timothee does his best here, providing a performance that is far better than the movie deserves, he’s not precisely depicting a memorable character or a fresh one at that. He’s submerged by the lack of creativity behind the camera.
Let me start by saying though, “Hot Summer Nights” is not a bad movie in the same sense of the “Truth or Dares” or the “Fifty Shades Freeds” of 2018. It’s a film that maintains a polished design, one that shines with saturation in a way that mimics the bright, sunshine arrays of the 1980’s, at least that’s how we choose to remember them. Those are the brilliant ideas that Bynum has, one of which is the arrival of the town folk-hero, Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe). He’s dashingly handsome, wickedly cool, and has reputation filled with the stuff of small-town legend. He’s lusted over, emerges from a cherry-red muscle car in slo-mo, built up by town gossip. Carries himself with the grease-junkie aptitude of allure, slicked-back hair, and pure confidence embodied into one dude.
This is where Bynum has something going for his film, prancing upon the absurdity of a town built heroes, ones that only the members of the small-knit communities are aware of, like that of Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe). There are snippets of the rumor mill in action, with rapidly edited interviews with these townspeople who share their experiences. It’s a Tarantino/Scorsese kind of a stylization in which the kids are cursing, the township stories are ones of ludicrousness, and it all amounts to a shady past involving this fable killing a guy.
It’s all apart of this study of townsmanship. Diving into the treatment of women which becomes crudely disturbing, the town, like any other, has their dime. In this case, we find McKayla (Maika Monroe), the town hottie with a reputation, the unattainable goddess of prepubescent boys, and the little sister to Mr. Strawberry (Alex Roe). A stunningly alluring treasure that Daniel (Timothee Chalamet) finds himself infatuated by, succumbed to her charms. The only problem is, she warns him about befriending her brother, and her brother forbids him of engaging with his sister, creating a triangle dilemma that is sure to explode, a tiresome rehashing aspect that drags the film down like weights are tied to its ankles.
The film loses itself in those tropes of storytelling. The relationship dilemmas, the sudden drug-dealing dangers which seem to have no natural reason for occurring other than Daniel (Timothee Chalamet) needed to do it so that the film could have that cliche “two kids in over their heads." They all fly by to quickly to develop any sense of resonance, disappearing into the background and becoming as forgetful as the characters. Seemingly developed around a cliche of a cliche of an eighties movie, despite taking place in 1991. Few things can be called original in this happenstance of a movie that dissipates in quality throughout its ninety-minute runtime.
Like that of McKayla (Maika Monroe) and Daniel’s (Timothee Chalamet) romance, which has moments in which they stare at the fireflies on a midnight date, or they visit the local carnival, all a while attempting to bring out that heart-aching small town romance of two young people’s first love. It’s buried underneath everything else going on, the drug deals, the “Wolf of Wall Street” meets “Footloose” narrative and the outright confusion of it all. Leaving the viewer unsure as to whether our story is amounting to a young boy’s fall from innocence, or a long-con of an examination on the small-town culture we used to paint as blissful beauty, but now see as antiquated.
You have the adequate performance from Alex Roe and the sex-heavy depiction from Maika Monroe, but it’s all a bunch of nonsense amounting to nothing more than a series of events honoring a time period the film doesn’t even take part in. It doesn’t seem familiar with the environment either, because in the midst of its genre storytelling is a Jupiter sized hurricane. One that seems to catch these “Cape townies” off-guard somehow, as if they’ve never prepared for such an event, despite living so close to the water.
All the while, the story is narrated by a young boy who saw the last moments of these events take place from his bedroom window. He talks like a kid from “Sandlot,” expecting us to care about his plucky attitude and youthful maturity, seemingly constructed by the events surrounding his life. We meet him near the end of the film, establishing his reasoning for narrating the story like that of “Goodfellas.” It’s a whole bunch of empty traits amounting to a whole sum of a picture worth a thousand words, none of which can describe what “Hot Summer Nights” is actually about.
It's a shame too, Bynum seems to have an eye for storytelling. He has moments where you can see the point to his craftsmanship lying idly behind the tropes of yesteryear, but it all becomes lackadaisically misguided. It becomes automated when we start diving into the drug dealing nature of this Miami-Vice beach-styled storytelling. I’m guessing Bynum was a big fan as a kid.