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Sebastian Turner
Sebastian Turner

Hot Summer Nights Fixed

Hot Summer Nights is a 2017 American neo-noir coming-of-age crime drama film written and directed by Elijah Bynum, in his directorial debut. It stars Timothée Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe, Maia Mitchell, William Fichtner, Thomas Jane, Rachel O'Shaughnessy, and Emory Cohen. Set on Cape Cod in the summer of 1991, the plot follows Daniel Middleton, a teenage boy who becomes entangled in the drug trade.

Hot Summer Nights

In 1991, Daniel, an awkward teenager, is sent by his mother to spend the summer with his aunt on Cape Cod after the death of his father. He is not excited about it at first, but soon he meets Hunter Strawberry, the bad boy in town. While working at a convenience store, Hunter hurriedly asks Daniel to hide marijuana from approaching police. They later become business partners in selling drugs from a man named Dex. He provides Daniel and Hunter with the marijuana they need to facilitate their business but warns them about the fatal consequences if he gets crossed.

Hunter's younger sister McKayla is the most crushed-on girl on Cape Cod. After escaping from her boyfriend at the drive-in, McKayla asks Daniel to take her home. Although Hunter forbids him to see McKayla, Daniel cannot help himself. At the summer carnival, he surprisingly kisses her, resulting in a beating by McKayla's boyfriend and his friends. Daniel and McKayla soon start dating secretly. At the same time, Hunter develops a relationship with Amy, the daughter of Sergeant Frank Calhoun, who becomes suspicious about his daughter's whereabouts.

Daniel, grieving for his dead father, is sent to stay with his aunt on the Cape for the summer. There, he finds himself immersed in the culture clash familiar to anyone who grew up in a tourist-trap beach town. There are the "townies," locals who live there year-round, and the "summer birds," tourists with yachts, fancy cars, and cardigans draped over their shoulders, showing up en masse after Memorial Day. Daniel is in an in-between position: he is both townie and summer bird. Hunter, hounded by the local cops (one in particular, played by Thomas Jane), befriends Daniel and Daniel hops aboard Hunter's successful weed business, urging Hunter to think bigger. (Nothing we've seen in Daniel suggests he'd be the type of person yearning to bring cocaine to the Cape.) At the same time, and separately, Daniel starts a sweet romance with Hunter's sister McKayla (Maika Monroe), the townie hottie with a bad reputation, strutting around in stonewash short shorts, popping Bubblicious bubble gum. Hunter has forbidden Daniel to get involved with his sister. And McKayla tells Daniel to never get involved with her brother. Much of the film is taken up tiresomely with Daniel hiding his involvement with each from the other.

The story is narrated by a kid who doesn't appear in the movie until the very end, and he relays to us the gossip, rumors and speculations swirling around the events of the summer of 1991 leading up to the cataclysm of Hurricane Bob. It's a game of telephone about Hunter, about McKayla, well-known figures around town. Townspeople share their "takes" directly to camera ("I heard Hunter killed a man," drones one kid), and for a while this device has intriguing possibilities. It keeps us at arm's length from the characters (cue Hunter's majestic entrance). Bynum is "going for something" here, a documentary-style providing an outside view on how a town sees its own history, how the truth morphs through repetition, how people (especially McKayla) are judged unfairly by those who don't know them. This could have worked. (Richard Linklater pulled it off beautifully in "Bernie.") But Bynum drops the device and the film moves into a more standard "coming of age" tale, showing Daniel's transformation from awkward outsider to wannabe drug kingpin. Without the device, "Hot Summer Nights" stumbles, grasping for meaning and mood, relying heavily on one of the more insistent soundtracks in recent memory.

Set in Cape Cod over one scorching summer, this fun and stylized thriller follows Daniel (Timothée Chalamet), a teenager who gets in over his head dealing drugs with the neighborhood rebel while pursuing his new partner's enigmatic sister.

By sheer happenstance, Daniel meets Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe), the local pot-dealing bad boy, and falls into a working relationship that blossoms into an unstable friendship. Since Hunter's reputation precedes him, Daniel makes the persuasive argument that he would be a less conspicuous drug dealer, and the two quickly grow the business under the noses of local police. Hunter's sole proviso is that Daniel cannot date his sister McKayla (Maika Monroe), the town's prime lust object, so of course that's exactly what he ends up doing. As if that situation weren't perilous enough for him, he also decides to expand into the cocaine trade, in defiance of their menacing big-city supplier. And, oh yeah: This is the same summer that Hurricane Bob ravaged the New England coast, just in time to give this impending disaster a visual metaphor.

First the cliches: This is a movie about a summer resort town on Cape Cod in which rich spoiled brats mix with local blue collar types. A local Casanova/bad boy becomes besties with a geeky out-of-towner. They partner up and make a killing dealing pot under the guidance of a nefarious kingpin. The geeky kid falls in love with the bad boy's sister, who just happens to be -- what else? -- the hottest girl in town.

That geeky kid would be Daniel (Oscar nominee Timothee Chalamet, expanding his portfolio). He's sent by his mother, in the summer after his father's death, to live with his aunt. He doesn't really fit in but miraculously become friends with Hunter (Alex Roe), a handsome pot dealer. At the same time he falls for local beauty McKayla (Maika Monroe); in time he realizes that McKayla and the potentially violently protective Hunter are siblings. He decides to keep quiet about McKayla.

Timothee Chalamet stars as a geeky teen transformed into a drug dealer during one summer on Cape Cod in this cliche-riddled pinball-frantic comedy-tragedy romance that features some fine performances. (107 minutes) Tom Long/Special to The Detroit News GRADE: B 041b061a72


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