Mario’s Movies: Flashback Films – “Hot Summer Nights” (2017)

By Mario Ricciardi

I really don’t understand why this film has an aggregate score of 44 on Metacritic. Well, of course I understand. Add up reviewer scores then divide it by the number of reviewers. What I don’t understand is why the reviews are so average to negative. Entertainment Weekly gave “Hot Summer Nights” a 58 out of 100, Rolling Stone a 50 and The New York Times a 30.

There are five negative reviews and nine mixed out of a total of 18. I’ve read most. They include phrases like “ ultimately empty,” “chaotic,” and “tonal mess.” I feel as if these critical personalities — almost in unison — are dismissing the film, not because of those elements, but because of a first-time writer/director and its indulgent visual language.

“Hot Summer Nights” is a pop pastiche fever dream that glorifies the ambitions of young adulthood. Circa 1980s, timid Daniel (Timothée Chalamet) comes of age during an otherworldly summer in Cape Cod. Things start slow from selling weed to gangsters, to falling in love for the first time and to eventually realizing that Daniel is in way over his head.

The film never quite establishes a space in time. Jumping from ’50s nostalgia, to a pop ’80s vibe, to the look of dismal modern day indie films. Its unique visual palette takes the viewers from Scorsese inspired montages to splashes of Fincher style color grading. There are also plenty of unique choices and discoveries found on its own. This cornucopia (Happy Thanksgiving, by the way) of looks and feels turns “Hot Summer Nights” into one of the most creative and beautiful films to come out of recent years.

Again, I have to ask the question, why are the mainstream reviews so average? Is it because of the film’s choice to imply graphic nature instead of show it? Is it the film’s eagerness to pull on heartstrings instead of conflict them? Could it be the film’s bleak ending? I was accustomed to think that was the kind of thing critics like the most. Maybe it’s just a conspiracy.

First-time director Elijah Bynum hits every note he has written into his script. The film not only earns the underlying emotional beats of the story, but it also reinforces them with a brilliant array of visual style. It’s bold disregard for modern conventional taste by exploiting its own divergent path and its critical reception harks to mind initial responses to cult classics like “Fight Club” and “Donnie Darko.”

Only time will tell if this hidden gem of a film will rise to cult status. For me, the film is already there. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if more films took as unconventional an approach as “Hot Summer Nights.” After all, there are no truly new stories, so filmmakers might as well push for new ground where they can get it.

Then again, I might just be missing something that all the other reviewers see. I’m just a 22-year-old college student. Wait, did that line just make my review “ultimately empty”? Maybe. Go check out “Hot Summer Nights” out on Amazon Prime.

????? (5/5 Penguins)