It’s been a couple of weeks since Hot Summer Nights had general release (over a year since it premiered), and I finally got a chance to watch it the other night. It annoyed me enough that I had to write about it.
Starring – Timothée Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe, Maia Mitchell
Premier – SXSW 2017
Directed & Written – Elijah Bynum
Rating – ♥♥♥/5
***Spoilers from here***
As anyone who has even glanced at my blog before knows, I have a huge amount of love and time for Timothée Chalamet (read my articles on Call Me By Your Name), hence the reason I picked to watch this movie in the first place (not going to lie!). And… I was left slightly lukewarm with this one.
The premise is that, after his father dies, young Daniel Middleton is sent to Eastern Massachusetts to stay with his aunt in the summer of 1991. This was one of the hottest summers on record, and the summer that Hurricane Bob hit the Eastern Seaboard. It would be one of the costliest hurricanes to ever hit the US. Whilst in nowheresville New England Daniel falls into the company of Hunter, the local drug dealer, and together they expand Hunter’s weed business until they are literally rolling in money. Of course there’s a beautiful girl; McKayla – who turns out to be Hunter’s estranged sister. Things escalate as Hunter and Daniel become involved with bigger drug rings, until Daniel tries to undercut them by finding his own suppliers. And then everything implodes on the night of the storm.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the acting was beautiful – as I have come to expect with Timothée – and the other cast members had no problem keeping up with him either. I also liked the style in how it was shot; the slightly grainy, grungy, slightly dirty aesthetic. It was if the dust and the dirt that comes with a hot summer was cast across the top of the film. It wasn’t polished or perfect, and would have looked odd if it had been. The shots themselves were fairly standard; there weren’t any frames that made me pause the movie, rewind, just so I can see that frame again because it was so stunningly beautiful. I liked the continuing shots of the hurricane from overhead, a very visual indication of “the storm is coming”… but there was definitely something missing for me. It felt like this movie was constantly waiting to start the race, and never quite got there. It had a lot of elements to be great, but it just didn’t quite make it. It didn’t quite pull together in order to explode.
To be honest, this was probably due to the writing. It simmered just on the wrong side of sizzling, and never reached boiling point. I found the end of the film especially frustrating. I was expecting there to be some climatic ending, where the tension was resolved. That’s what actors talk about all the time – what is the tension? Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? How do they square off against each other in the end? It felt as if the movie had built the tension up with the increasing seriousness of Daniel and Hunter’s involvement in the drug trade, but then rather than coming to a head, it was allowed to escape to like water through someone’s fingers. Hunter ends up dead, as the movie voice over says “he made a beautiful corpse, just like everyone thought he would”; Daniel runs for his life, and McKayla leaves town, never to be seen again. And that’s it.
Maybe the sense of discomfort is what the viewer is supposed to be left with, but it made me frustrated. It felt as if there should have been another few scenes that had completed the AND??? Thinking about it, perhaps the movie was supposed to happen in a certain space (nowheresville), and once the players had left that space – much like when actors leave a stage – the audience can’t see what is happening with them. They’re not given a eagle view of what happens outside of those space parameters. If that is the case, that seems to be a pretty clever thing for the director to attempt, but until I was thinking about it hard, it didn’t occur to me, so therefore perhaps it’s not obvious enough? It is Elijah Bynum’s directorial debut, so perhaps I’m being overly critical.
It had the makings of a good movie; an arty vibe (which I love), a great young cast with some serious talent, some absolute bangers on the soundtrack… but it just doesn’t quite get there. Maybe I expected too much, just because I saw Chalamet’s name on the billing, but I was left slightly disappointed.
Have you seen ‘Hot Summer Nights’? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!