This debut feature from writer/director David Robert Mitchell is a wonderful and calming experience of a film, and one I highly recommend. It’s now playing in Los Angeles and New York, but is also available via onDemand on most cable networks. The reviews that say its a modern day teenage version of American Graffiti pretty much have it right. When watching that movie to this day the thing that always struck me about it was, while of course portraying the rebellious naive side of teenagers, it showed more the maturity of kids who are on the edge becoming adults all their own. Most films about the high school years lose sight of that, usually on purpose in the pursuit of big box office dollars, but every once in a while some films break past that. John Hughes of course did that brilliantly while still pulling in mainstream audiences back in the 80’s, with The Breakfast Club being a prime example. This new film I don’t see appealing to audiences on that same mainstream level, but it’s bit of a treasure in that sense, it being something that is appreciated on a smaller scale.
Like American Graffiti, the plot is simple enough, showing an array of small town Michigan high school students and how they are spending the last night of summer before school begins. Plot however takes a background, as it’s really all about the kids, and that’s where this film shines. These are kids you know. More than likely they were you at this age. They act like kids we remember, and they look like kids we remember. These aren’t Hollywood actors who are portrating high school kids. These are high school kids portraying high school kids. The good type of kids you knew that you and your friends were, but had to convince your suspicious parents of. Kids that are so normal, but also as quirky as high school kids are when they are growing up, but not in a Hollywood forced quirky style. They are just good, with real emotions, with actual morals, the kind of kids you would be proud to call your own. There is just such a sweetness to all of them, the kind of teenager you don’t see presented in cinema anymore. Gentle. Quiet. Reserved.
But at the same time there is nothing really normal cinematically in how they are presented. Their world is a kind one, and it’s ethereal at times, shot so beautifully and the pacing so calming that it helps hit just the right nostalgic tone, even though it takes place today. That feeling of being up in the middle of night, walking the empty streets of your small town world on a quiet summer night with the yearning feeling of that age to see what else is out there – who else is out there – it’s all captured so gently and with such charm by this cast of unknowns. This film, a proud snapshot of the kids of today, is one that will only most definitely get better with age. It’s reserved, it doesn’t need to shout to be heard, but it’s a beautiful and atmospheric observation of a chapter in the life of today’s American teenager.