Last year, critics and audiences fell in love with actor Timothée Chalamet after his Oscar nominated performance in Call Me by Your Name and supporting role in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. The twenty-two year old powerhouse’s latest project Hot Summer Nights gives the actor another platform show off his immense talent. While Chalamet shines in this stylish and moody coming-of-age story, an uneven script and tone keeps the film from beating the summer heat.
Set in Cape Cod, Massachusetts during the scorching New England summer of 1991, Hot Summer Nights follows awkward teen Daniel Middleton (Chalamet) as he spends his summer selling marijuana with the town’s bad boy -locals claim he killed a man- Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe). While the two make a name for themselves dealing to the townies and summer birds, an opportunity arises when the big-time baddy, Dex (Emory Cohen), makes the boys an offer they can’t refuse. Now that business is booming and money is pouring in, Daniel, whose new found confidence can be troublesome, sets his attention on a summer romance with McKayla (Maika Monroe), Hunter’s estranged younger sister. Daniel’s summer begins to spin out of control -much like Hurricane Bob that is heading towards Cape Cod- when his secret romance and business endeavors begin to become a lethal combination.
Hot Summer Nights features some dazzling cinematography by Javier Julia and solid performances from its young cast, but the film seems to be in the middle of an identity crisis. First time director Elijah Bynum -who also wrote the film- struggles with deciding if his film is the next Goodfellas or an episode of Degrassi. While younger, hipper audiences will probably enjoy what can be called Goodfellas: The Next Generation, Bynum’s uneven pacing is rather disappointing coming from a director who displays a keen eye for the sleek and sexy.
Debuting at South by Southwest in 2017, Hot Summer Nights received little attention until Chalamet’s breakout later that same year. It does not entirely come as a surprise that the film gained little buzz as Hot Summer Nights feels much more of a “Netflix and chill” counterpart to Call Me By Your Name than a big screen spectacle. Coincidently, the film premiered through Direct TV Cinema in June 2018. On the other hand, Hot Summer Nights is able to bring out the best in its young cast who are able to carry the film through its flaws. Chalamet is a born star who has seemingly found a home within the coming-of-age genre. Roe who channels his best and effective James Dean impression is a talent on the rise. This is shown during an emotional interaction with local authority, Sergeant Frank Calhoun (Thomas Jane) who compares the rebel without a cause to his estranged deadbeat father. Maika Monroe, the breakout star from 2014’s horror masterpiece It Follows, displays sizzling chemistry with Chalamet, as their characters’ summer romance comes off as messy but authentic.
Despite all the young talent attached, the stylish first act of Hot Summer Nights delivers so much promise yet loses much of its appeal and charm during a flat second and third act. Bynum certainly displays skills behind the camera but needs some improvement in the pen and paper department. While his first directorial outing comes off as a mixed bag, it will be interesting to see what Bynum has up his sleeve for a follow-up. In the end, Hot Summer Nights could have left a blazing mark on the independent film scene yet instead it will likely be as fleeting as a cool summer breeze.
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