Directed by: Joseph Cross
Screenplay by: Jordan Joliff and Joseph Cross
Story by: Jordan Joliff
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Ian Nelson, Analigh Tipton, Callan McAuliffe, Ella Hunt, Bill Miner, Hayden Szeto, Lana Condor, Elena Kampouris, Melina Vidler, Khris Davis, Victoria Justice, Justin Chatwin
Joseph Cross’s “Summer Night” is a peculiarity. It is a coming-of-age story, which reflects the real-world values that affect high school and college-aged kids. The theme of the film is deftly set with Cross’s use of “Can’t Catch Me” by NoMBe & New Mystics as we meet Taylor (Callan McAuliffe).
“Summer Night” is also a very self-aware story. This theme of “we’re invincible” comes alive as Cross and co-screenwriter Jordan Joliff introduce us to Jameson (Ellar Coltrane, “Boyhood”) and Seth (Ian Nelson) in a very fluid way within the same forest as Taylor. Jameson is very much a loner as he ponders his life. It’s not immediately known why Jameson is in a brooding mood, but Coltrane plays it with panache as we know that this is his story.
As Seth, Ian Nelson has a far more interesting and robust character. Cross and co-screenwriter Jordan Joliff take a risk in not immediately disclosing Seth’s situation and Nelson’s performance is nuanced well enough that we don’t necessarily want to know right away either.
By not immediately disclosing Seth’s situation, it has the intended benefit of allowing Cross to continue to fluidly integrate other characters, giving them each a chance to shine, namely Analeigh Tipton as Mel, Seth’s girlfriend. Telling the story in the way that Cross did, It also obfuscates Jameson’s story by building in too many other, smaller moments. They define the driving theme, but the story’s fluidity also gets in the way of truly shaping the main characters and their situations.
Once we get into a party atmosphere at The Alamo, where Jameson settles with Harmony (Victoria Justice) and he avoids Corin (Elena Kampouris), Jameson doesn’t have so much pent up tension, we get the chance to see Coltrane relax too. We get to watch Taylor strut his vocal chords as well as his theatrics on stage.
As Jameson, Seth and Taylor realize that they aren’t as invincible as they once thought they were, Cross forces them to decide if they’re going to remain within the comfort of their cocoons or if they’re really ready to mature in to that next stage of adulthood. This is where Coltrane and Nelson really shine; their defining moments decided in the drunken haze of partying.
Though Taylor is not a central figure in this story, the character defines Cross’s themes. Taylor gave the appearance of being a “rough and tumble” type character, but he definitely has a soul that complimented Jameson and Seth.
“Summer Night” screened at the Phoenix Film Festival this past April and is being released in theaters nationwide this weekend. The performances are really what make Joseph Cross’s film sing. Some of the story mechanics don’t necessarily work, but the fluidity with which we’re introduced to characters and their intertwining situations really push the envelope of coming-of-age stories.
2.75 out of 4 stars