Bummer Summer

The clumsy pun of its title gives little hint of the charms of "Bummer Summer."

The clumsy pun of its title gives little hint of the charms of “Bummer Summer,” in which the artless and arty combine to mostly engaging effect. Featuring largely improvised perfs framed inside carefully composed shots, this micro-budget black-and-white item examines a couple of days in the early summer life of a trio of college friends. Nothing remarkable happens, but the pic is happy to leave it that way, avoiding larger meaning. What’s left is clean, unpretentious, fresh filmmaking that turns its limited resources into a virtue. Fest appearances could improve “Bummer’s” summer.

Early scenes feature fresh-faced Isaac (Mackinley Robinson) aimlessly hanging out. As he flicks open a gadget that turns out to be a comb rather than a knife and wanders down empty school corridors, we steel ourselves for an “Elephant”-like shootout that thankfully it never comes. Instead, the lack of activity signals the start of summer vacation, Isaac hangs out with g.f. Maya (Maya Wood) and then goes to a local concert where he meets up with Ben (helmer Weintraub) and folkie Lila (Julia McAlee), Ben’s ex.

When Maya finds Isaac in a hammock with Lila, she breaks up with him. Much of the second half of the film charts the journey of the likable but nondescript trio of Isaac, Lila and Ben. It’s a lot like an enervated parody of “On the Road,” and at times the lack of real or emotional drama in the protags’ lives translates into tedium

Among pic’s strengths is its ability to create comically inconsequential moments, as when the three pitch a tent and meet an amiable Russian fellow who wants to borrow vanilla extract. They have some fun on a beach, which is where they are free to behave like the kids they still are.

Visually, this is Jim Jarmusch territory. Shots are challengingly lengthy through the early stretches, less so later, but there’s always something interesting happening in the frame, since the helmer has taken great trouble with composition. (Pic was shot entirely in natural light using an SLR camera in video mode). Some strikingly crisp and attentive monochrome images of an attractive area result, particularly through the beach section.

Thesps are improvising, and sometimes they stumble. But more often, the slow, hesitant rhythms of their exchanges translate into engaging naturalness. Conversation is mostly of the “kind of, I guess” variety, and when emotions come faintly through, they’re a welcome relief. But this is not a movie about teen blankness; it’s just a movie featuring teens who happen to be blank, and that’s its strength.

Tech limitations are presumably responsible for the occasionally close-to-inaudible dialogue.

Bummer Summer

  • Production: A Newhard Entertainment production. (International sales: Newhard Entertainment, New York.) Produced by Nandan Rao. Directed, written by Zach Weintraub.
  • Crew: Camera (B&W, DV), Nandan Rao; editor, Jesse Fisher; music, Julia McAlee, Alex Rivera, Luc Heuer, Ian Weintraub; sound, Luc Heuer, Dustin Wickham, Katie Rotondi. Reviewed on DVD, Malaga, Spain, April 24 2010. (In Buenos Aires Film Festival -- international competition.) Running time: 80 MIN.
  • With: With: Mackinley Robinson, Maya Wood, Zach Weintraub, Alex Rivera, Julia McAlee.