Movie Reviews

Hot Summer Nights – A Style Over Substance Coming of Age Story (Early Review)

Summers are always better with some Chalamet.

Synopsis: Set in Cape Cod over one scorching summer, this fun and stylized thriller follows Daniel, a teenager who gets in over his head dealing drugs with the neighborhood rebel while pursuing his new partner’s enigmatic sister. (a24)

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Alex Roe, and Maika Monroe

Writer: Elijah Bynum

Director: Elijah Bynum

Rating: R (United States)

Running Time: 107mins

Trailer: 

For Timothée Chalamet, after Call Me By Your Name, there was Hot Summer Nights. It’s taken a while to get here since premiering at last year’s SXSW Film Festival and being available to DirecTV customers in the United States via DirecTV Now since the end of June but it is finally here and it could not have come at a more appropriate time (obviously). There is definitely a lot of style on display, however, most will be seeing this for Chalamet and he does not disappoint though the rest of the film around him was lacking.

Here Chalamet plays Daniel, an awkward teenager sent to Cape Cod for the summer before visiting college. The story, more or less, goes the way you would expect by checking off plenty of summer and coming of age film clichés along the way. Struggling to fit in with the social structure of his new surroundings, Daniel meets the town bad boy/drug dealer Hunter Strawberry (Roe). The two quickly strike a profitable business relationship together over the course of the summer. Hunter also happens to be very protective of his younger sister McKayla (Monroe). Over time and with success, Daniel confidence grew more and more, giving him the courage to approach McKayla and began to fall for her.

Things were pretty much going well for all the main characters until they inevitably didn’t. The story looked promising when things were going well but once they didn’t, it began to fall apart. It ultimately took a long time to get going, utilizing a surplus of unnecessary expositionary narration at the start of the film. One of the biggest problems with the film was its inconsistent tone. The film was going in far too many directions, stretching both the plot and each individual subplot too thin, and making it difficult to get emotionally invested in any of the subplots. As mentioned, none of them were original to begin with and while they may have worked individually, they didn’t quite fit together as well as they could have.

The characters lacked development for the most part, relying on the aforementioned narration, however, Daniel’s transformation over the course of the film was compelling to watch by far and it wasn’t even close. The other main characters were nothing more than the expositionary narration that described them. Hunter was nothing more than the reputation that proceeded him of the “legendary bad boy”. McKayla was nothing more than the “hot girl”. They did not have the best relationship when we first met them, however, the reason for this did not matter all that much and it inevitably did not last, following the predictable story.

One of the elements where the film exceled was its sense of style. From the muted color palette, the great soundtrack, and some inventive camera work, the film was always different to look at and was never not engaging to watch. The film also nailed its late 80s/early 90s setting by taking care of all the details such as the wardrobes, the set designs, and the movies playing at the drive in (remember those?). Those of that generation (so just before my time) will surely enjoy the blast from the past but the film could have gone much further with it.

The best part of the film was Chalamet’s excellent performance as Daniel. His screen presence and charm allowed him to overcome his underwritten character and made his journey compelling. His arc perhaps wasn’t the most believable but he was always fun to watch. Roe was good as Hunter Strawberry and had terrific chemistry which made their big brother/little brother relationship fun to watch. The same could not be said for Daniel’s relationship with McKayla. It’s not that Monroe was bad, it was just that the chemistry between them wasn’t there.

Overall, this was a decent summery, coming of age film with a memorable sense of style and another quality performance from Timothée Chalamet but is let down by an unoriginal story, inconsistent tone, and a weaker second half. However, Chalamet fans should find plenty to enjoy here while others will relate to the characters and setting. 

*Hot Summer Nights is available on digital and will open in NY and LA starting on Friday*

Score: 6.5/10

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