Courtesy of A24
Guaranteed to become a late night feast of retro-pulpy goodness, Timothee Chalemet's new vehicle “Hot Summer Nights” is a kinetic ball of energy which boasts a killer soundtrack that showcases the best of what a summer movie can be.
Taking place in Cape Cod, Massachusetts over the summer of 1991, Chalemet (fresh of his Oscar turn in “Call Me By Your Name”) stars as Daniel, a quiet oddball who's shipped to his Aunt's house on the east coast, to help recover from the loss of his father. When he rolls into town, not much is going for him, but soon Daniel breaks out of his shell, befriending the cool and bulky Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe) and wooing the prettiest, most sought after, chick in town Mykayla (Maika Monroe).
On paper, it's all the makings for another coming-of-age story. But first time writer and director Elijah Bynum manages to keep us invested in the character's relationships. Specifically between Chalemet and Monroe, whose chemistry sparks electricity in the best on screen romance I've seen all year.
The backdrop to all of this, of course, has to deal with the drug dealing scene taking over. You see, Hunter is in the business of selling, and Daniel wants a piece of the action. The duo capture the interest of a distributor named Dax (Emory Cohen) who sees the potential growth in their operation. He's a self referential slugger, that, when asked 'what happens if their clients are late on a payment?’ says “You've seen the movies.”
But the hyper-caffeinated drug dealing sequences (and the eventual turmoil you know they'll end up in) are second fiddle to the summer romance that blossoms between the two leads. Hunter strikes up a passionate affair with the local sheriff’s (Thomas Jane showing some smugness) daughter (Maia Mitchell) and I've already disclosed my feelings on Chalemet and Monroe, the best looking couple you'll see this summer. And did I mention all of this has the likes of David Bowie, and The Outfield pumping in the background?
Daniel's romance could easily have become another stomach churning relationship, but Bynum is so much better than that. He frequently dazzles by upending normal conventions that, in a lesser movie, would've been fine, but the quality of “Nights” demands that type of attention. One sexy encounter in particular, complete with lingering close-ups on a lollipop, plays out normally, however, the script is busy with some fun interactions that elevate the material. So while Daniel and MyKayla are actually flirting, their discussing the best ways to kill slugs with epsom salt.
Scenes like that make “How Summer Nights” minor plot inconsistencies forgivable, but the film does service to the moviegoer, by making them forget about the outside world for a solid two hour genre-defying experience. In the end, the picture leaves the viewer with an an intoxicating aftertaste and a glow of enthusiasm long after the credits roll. It's even more sad, when you leave and remember that it's 2018 and not 1991.