Summer of 84
starring Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Rich Sommer
written by Matt Leslie & Stephen J. Smith
directed by Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell & Yoann-Karl Whissell
by Walter Chaw From the first strains of Le Matos' Tangerine Dream-influenced score (borrowed most heavily from Risky Business, for some reason), even before the Class of 1984 title font tells it to you raw, you know that Summer of '84, from Turbo Kid helmers Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell (collectively known as RKSS), is going to be another '80s throwback flick. That's not bad in and of itself, but it comes with some built-in pitfalls. "Stranger Things", for instance, the setting is all it has going for it and it doesn't even get the vernacular right, whereas something like It well and truly knows the notes and hears the music, too. Summer of '84 falls somewhere between these two contemporary touchstones. It spends most of its time as a high-concept movie that rumbles along with cozy familiarity and an exceptional cast, and then in its last five minutes, it discovers its purpose and nails the landing. Pity that it didn't find its feet sooner. A greater pity, perhaps, that it didn't get another pass through the typewriter.
What it's mostly about is evoking the mid-1980s without entirely understanding that the mid-1980s were one part in love with nuclear death and one part in love with the Eisenhower '50s. (This decade we can't stop romanticizing was itself steeped in nostalgia.) It seems to get at this a little when Davey's dad (Jason Gray-Stanford) comments that the "Cold War will never end," and then again when a thug says something about "butt-fucking Wookiees": the nuclear and the blockbuster. But until that last five minutes, it's not clear at all that Summer of '84 has any idea of what to do with that liebstrom and so contents itself with barely-connected skits in which the boys Rear Window suspicious bachelor Mackey (Rich Sommer), Davey spends winsome summer nights chatting with Nikki, and Woody does his best to bum couches in his friends' houses so he doesn't have to bear his mother's illness--and maybe his own loneliness. I love a moment when it's suggested that their clubhouse might get torn down and Woody protests that they can't do that because he'd live there if he could. I watched Summer of '84 twice and the second time through it's almost impossible to watch Emery's performance without losing it. He's hands down the breakout star of the film and the only one who captures the emotional push/pull from start to finish.
Its conclusion never in doubt, what with a bumbling constabulary and parents who don't listen (of course the kids are right), the handsomely-produced Summer of '84 ultimately wins a recommendation with its ending, where someone dies and Davey finds himself marooned by his friends, abandoned by his crush in one heartbroken shot, and saddled with a certain kind of dread for, as far as we know, the rest of his life. The script fails him with Davey's voiceover adding platitudes that indicate the filmmakers maybe didn't know what was really working with their film, but the images of a child riding his bike down his street like a hero from Heraclitus, visiting his world as it collapses, is among the most powerful sequences of the year. It vindicates all the "Magnum P.I." and Cobra Commander references, the MTV T-shirts and spot-on Bananarama "Cruel Summer" music cues, in one fell swoop. Imagine what it would have been had meaning not been imposed on it. As it is, Summer of '84 is a collection of fine performances headlined by a revelatory one and an ending that somehow manages to redeem the exhausted milieu and premise. I'm not sorry I watched it. Hell, I watched it twice.