SXSW 2017 Review: Hot Summer Nights – Trainspotting With Weed

Well, here’s my big discovery at SXSW. I took a chance on an unknown film, first time writer/director and an emerging cast. Hot Summer Nights was described as a coming of age story so if Elijah Bynum had a unique take it could be something, and boy did he!

Hot Summer Nights is like a teen New England Goodfellas. That’s not to discredit Bynum’s own style. He wouldn’t earn the Goodfellas comparison unless the style was self-assured and expressing character, and it is. It’s as evocative of the way Goodfellas made us feel as it is any similarities in crime, drugs and growing up.

After his father dies, Daniel (Timothee Chalamet) spends the summer of 1991 in Cape Cod. He meets Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe) who gives him pot for the first time and it changes his world. Daniel and Hunter become the top weed dealers of Cape Cod.

Financial success gives Daniel romantic confidence too. Daniel goes for the town dream girl McKayla (Maika Monroe) which complicates things because she’s Hunter’s sister. It’s the age old story of love versus business. You can’t have your cake on thin ice and eat it both ways.

The style of music, surreal montage, camera moves and editing adapts to the moods of the characters. The soundtrack is period appropriate and what would already have been considered oldies then. Like the great movies, Hot Summer Nights makes these songs it’s own. They will forever be identified with Daniel and McKayla, and there are some nice deep cuts too.

I know she’s just getting started but this is the best performance I’ve seen Monroe give so far. The simmering sensuality is as palpable as the violence is in your face. Chalamet is even more powerful in Hot Summer Nights than he was in his acclaimed Sundance movie Call Me By Your Name. He has a grander evolution here with more shades of playing with fire. Roe keeps that dangerous edge but we sympathize with Hunter.

I quite enjoyed seeing the ’90s beach town vibe. That was my era in Ocean City, MD but it was similar. And I loved seeing ’90s movies on the drive-in marquee, even if they screened Terminator 2 in 1.85:1. Drive-ins probably did crop to fit their screens.

Hot Summer Nights takes on a quality of legend. These people’s lives were changed forever that summer in 1991, but they may have left an even greater impact on Cape Cod. There are lots more corners of Hot Summer Nights to explore but I’ll save them for you to discover as I did.

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