×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: Timothée Chalamet in ‘Hot Summer Nights’

Timothée Chalamet plays another teenager entering the forbidden zone: a pot dealer who's daring beyond his years — and beyond all plausibility.

Director:
Elijah Bynum
With:
Timothée Chalamet, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe, Maia Mitchell, Emory Cohen, Thomas Jane, William Fichtner.
Release Date:
Jul 27, 2018

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3416536/

Imagine a wistful hooking-up-on-the-boardwalk coming-of-age film, set on Cape Cod during the long hot summer of 1991, starring Timothée Chamalet in a variation on the passively precocious owl-eyed dreamer he played in “Call Me by Your Name.” Now imagine a scuzzy underworld drama that takes that same Chalamet character, in all his hooded sensual innocence, and turns him into a pot-dealing version of Mark Wahlberg in “Boogie Nights”: a cold hard opportunist who gets hooked on the life.

Put them together and you have “Hot Summer Nights,” a weirdly “romantic” drug drama that wastes no time burning plausibility to the ground. Yet even when it does, the actors keep it alive (sort of). Still, you can’t stop wondering if the first-time writer-director, Elijah Bynum, who has a talent for atmosphere, meant for us to actually take the story on the level. If so, it was a miscalculation. He has made what feels like a “Miami Vice” episode ripped out of some sensitive and nostalgic teen dude’s diary.

Chalamet’s Daniel Middleton starts off as an awkward, alienated, asthmatic loner who sits around in his bedroom drinking in the forlorn strains of Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time.” He is sent off to spend the summer with his aunt in Hyannis, where he’s an odd boy out, caught between the townies and a village of slumming tourists. But then he meets the two most beautiful people in town: Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe), a pot dealer in a red Mustang who swaggers into a party looking like a brooding grease-monkey version of James Dean; and Hunter’s estranged sister, McKayla (Maika Monroe), who with her cutoffs and come-hither pout is the most coveted girl around. It’s Daniel’s destiny to win and betray both of them.

All of which might be more believable if the film didn’t present Daniel, in the early scenes, as a geek who doesn’t know how to talk to girls and can barely hold onto his beer cup. That said, Chalamet makes geekery captivating. When he meets Hunter, a loser-stud who fell into the pot-salesman game and now can’t imagine doing anything else, he charms him with his quick brain and becomes his assistant.

That you can buy.

What we can’t buy is Daniel’s overnight transformation into a hustler who insists on taking Hunter’s business to the next level. “Hot Summer Nights” was shot just before “Call Me by Your Name,” and it spent some time on the fabled Black List of ostensibly hot unproduced screenplays. Yet the joke of the movie is that a first-rate script is exactly what it doesn’t have. Bynum has made a half-baked, beyond-the-law “Adventureland” that keeps cutting corners, and never begins to explain how Daniel could have the moxie, the contacts, and the underworld acumen to transition from being a pot dealer’s wide-eyed beanpole lackey, hawking dime bags to tourists and locals, to becoming a sharp-edged drug salesman moving product in bulk form.

Yet Chalamet is such a good actor that he demonstrates how, in a movie that did explain it, you might buy him as a flyweight criminal opportunist. Chalamet has dark eyes and eyebrows that dance in his pale thin face, focusing his intensity, but more than that he has a quality of heartlessness that will take him far. I don’t mean that he doesn’t possess heart — only that he has the ability to be magnetically self-directed and even cruel, which is an element of what any true star needs. (He drew on those qualities in “Lady Bird.”) When he’s in broken-geek mode, it’s hard to believe that someone like McKayla would waste a second glance on him, but Chalamet gives Daniel the fumbling sexiness and surly instinct to break through her defenses.

They spend a romantic summer together, even as Daniel, in his other life, is making serious drug money. But here, once again, comes the schlock factor: The movie depicts Hyannis as the sort of small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business — but somehow, despite the youth-gossip grapevine, we’re supposed to accept that Hunter, with his street smarts, and McKayla, the most plugged-in girl around, could spend the entire summer without knowing that Daniel is involved with either of them.

Hunter, at a house party in Boston, pistol-whips a drug salesman to within an inch of his life, and we think, “What’s he going to do to Daniel when he learns his sister is sleeping with him?” The film sets up this old-style sexual conflict only to let it wither away. Yet Alex Roe gives an expert performance as the doomed Hunter; he’s tense, poised, suffused with a bad-boy awareness that his life of dealing can only crash and burn. He comes closer than anyone in the film to creating an organically believable character.

There’s not much early-’90s atmosphere in “Hot Summer Nights,” apart from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” playing at the local drive-in. Bynum stages a good scene with a cocaine dealer, played by the always inventive William Fichtner, that exposes the film’s “Boogie Nights” pretensions. He also stages a lot of moonlit canoodling between Daniel and McKayla that’s meant to tug at our hearts, though the film loses its pulse in these scenes. Maybe that’s because McKayla is more a male dream than a fully fledged character. Like the rest of “Hot Summer Nights,” she’s a fantasy pretending to be real.

Film Review: Timothée Chalamet in 'Hot Summer Nights'

Reviewed online, New York, July 24, 2018. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 106 MIN.

Production: An A24 release of an Imperative Entertainment production. Producers: Dan Friedkin, Ryan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas. Executive producers: Jasmine Daghighian, Nathan Kelly, Casey Mott.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Elijah Bynum. Camera (color, widescreen): Javier Julia. Editors: Jeff Castelluccio, Tom Costantino, Dan Zimmerman. Music: Will Bates.

With: Timothée Chalamet, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe, Maia Mitchell, Emory Cohen, Thomas Jane, William Fichtner.

More Film

  • Gabrielle Union

    10 Things We Learned at Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit

    Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit, which brought top execs to Hollywood’s NeueHouse on Thursday, covered considerable ground. From cutting through the noise in an oversaturated media landscape to welcoming exciting technology like virtual reality, industry veterans offered insight into what to expect from the marketing world in coming years. Here are 10 things we learned [...]

  • Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces On

    Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces on Flurry of High-Profile Series

    Following “The Name of the Rose”(pictured) and “Devils,” France’s Orange has unveiled four internationally-driven series projects as part of its commitment to step into premium original shows with its film/TV division Orange Studio and pay TV group OCS both of board. Currently in development, the social western “Cheyenne & Lola,” the dance-filled workplace drama “The [...]

  • 'This Isn’t Spinal Tap': Dishing the

    'This Isn't Spinal Tap': Dishing the Dirt on Motley Crue's Surprisingly Dark Biopic

    The new, eagerly awaited Motley Crue biopic, based on Neil Strauss’ best-selling 2001 book, “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band,” premieres today on Netflix after a seemingly endless 13 years in development hell. Those anticipating “a fun ‘80s music movie,” as Crue bassist Nikki Sixx puts it, will inevitably be stunned [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: Jordan Peele's 'Us' Nabs $7.4 Million on Thursday Night

    Jordan Peele’s horror-thriller “Us” opened huge with $7.4 million on Thursday night in North America. The figure easily topped Thursday preview numbers for “The Nun” at $5.4 million and “A Quiet Place” at $4.3 million and nearly matched “Halloween” at $7.7 million. Projections for Universal’s “Us,” Peele’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2017’s “Get Out,” have been in [...]

  • Beatriz Bodegas on Netflix Original: ‘Who

    ‘Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?’ Producer on New Spanish Netflix Original

    BARCELONA – “Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?” is the second directorial outing from Spain’s Jota Linares (“Animales sin collar”) a Netflix Original premiering on Friday, March 22 in competition at the Malaga Spanish Language Film Festival. Starring María Pedraza, Jaime Lorente, Pol Monen and Andrea Ros, the film is the movie adaptation [...]

  • Beijing Festival Unveils 'Mad Max,' 'Bourne'

    Beijing Festival Unveils 'Mad Max,' 'Bourne,' Kurosawa Screening Series

    The upcoming Beijing International Film Festival will give space to high-profile Hollywood franchise movies with screenings of all films in both the “Mad Max” and “Bourne Identity” series. Classic Hollywood fare will also feature prominently in a lineup that, as usual, features an eclectic grab-bag of titles. The local government-backed festival opens April 13 and [...]

  • J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church

    SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius'

    Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content