Hot Summer Nights
Written and Directed by Elijah Bynum
Starring Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Thomas Jane, Alex Roe, Maia Mitchell, Emory Cohen, William Fichtner
As kids, we struggle to find our place in the universe. We want more and more without necessarily thinking of the consequences. In the summer of 1991, Daniel Middleton (Chalamet) goes to stay with his aunt on Cape Cod. Daniel is an awkward teenager, struggling to fit in and is bored. When he runs into the local “baddie,” Hunter Strawberry (Roe), his life changes immediately, and not necessarily for the better.
Elijah Bynum’s directorial debut has the look and feel of a major blockbuster motion picture. It also has a star in Timothee Chalamet, who performs awkward and intelligent in the same sentence. As an audience, we don’t mind that he switches gears; it is dynamic.
Alex Roe’s performance is akin to a chameleon. We know he’s physically there, but he is extremely laid back to the point where, when he goes off on someone, you can feel it through the screen. It is a nice counterpoint to Chalamet.
Bynum’s story focuses on two essential plot points: a love story between Daniel and McKayla and their drug operation. Daniel’s taste for bigger and better things gets in the way of a friendship that he forms with Hunter. The trifecta gets in the way of Daniel being able to see that bigger is not always better.
Which is a problem because Bynum doesn’t execute on this aspect very well. The way the story unfolds, we feel sympathetic towards their own struggles because their decisions put them in the line of danger and we cannot empathize because all three understand the dangers, yet they choose to risk their lives.
Bynum’s direction, much like his story is overstylized. He attempts to pad the story with characters that we can empathize with, namely Thomas Jane’s Sergeant Frank Calhoun. Emory Cohen (“Brooklyn”) plays Dex, the drug dealer and the muscle. The performance is just as unassuming as Roe’s, almost to the point of being comical. He is physically threatening, but that’s all he really is.
There is a moment of irony as we are introduced to William Fichtner’s Shep. The scantily clad hostess in the room is sitting at a piano, playing “Layla (Piano Exit)”, a song that typically exemplifies an oncoming, ominous problem. She is immune to the business deal that Daniel is trying to run on his own. The scene is drab, yet full of light. We are hopeful that Daniel will come through unscathed, but the odds are against him.
Had Bynum made this film 20 years ago, I think he would have found more success. He had the right ideas, but couldn’t full execute on them. Timothee Chalamet does prove that he can carry a film. He doesn’t upstage his co-stars and he connects with every actor on the screen. We like him because he’s miserable and finds love; we hate him because he tries to take on too much. In the end, the hyperstylized world that Bynum creates feels out of date and out of touch.
Rating 2.5 out of 4.