Actor-turned-writer/producer/director Joseph Cross makes a quietly masterful debut with Summer Night, a richly realized comedy/drama that draws favorable comparisons to American Graffiti (1973) and Dazed and Confused (1993). It’s about a day – and night – in the life of a group of affable 20-somethings, some of whom are trying to hold onto the past while others want to peer into the future. Nothing happens, and everything happens.
The absence of adults may seem curious, but the young characters have enough personality – and enough problems – to sustain interest throughout. No matter one’s age, it’s easy to empathize or identify with the characters and their travails. There are priceless comic moments in Cross’s screenplay, but they never undermine the dramatic aspects of the story, which are rendered in completely credible and believable terms.
The action centers on a concert at a local watering hole called The Alamo, where best buds Jameson (Ellar Coltrane) and Seth (Ian Nelson) are scheduled to perform. Jameson’s with a new girl, the sexy and self-assured Harmony (Victoria Justice), but it’s clear that Alamo ticket-taker Corin (Elena Kampouris) carries a torch for him. Seth has bigger things on his mind; having learned that girlfriend Mel (Analeigh Tipton) is pregnant.
Taylor (Callan McAuliffe) has met Dana (Ella Hunt), who’s had a crush on him since grade school, and they seem to be hitting it off – which doesn’t sit well with ex-girlfriend Vanessa (newcomer Melina Vidler), and Jack “Rabbit” (Bill Milner) is rocked on his heels by the admission of his beloved Lexi (Lana Condor) that she slept with another guy at her sister’s wedding.
Amid everything is Andy (Justin Chatwin), The Alamo bartender and guitar-strumming guru, who’s a few years older than the rest of the gang, but by hanging out with them allows him to hang on to his arrested adolescence. It’s an impeccable ensemble cast, with Chatwin the unabashed scene-stealer.
In another nod to everyday reality, Summer Night doesn’t wrap up its multiple storylines neatly, nor does it definitively hint which way the characters will proceed, although – courtesy Chatwin – it wraps on a fade-out bit that ranks among the year’s very best. It’s the perfect way to end Summer Night … the next morning.
Summer Night will be screened 7 p.m. Monday, July 15 at A/perture Cinema, 311 W. Fourth St., Winston-Salem, with actor Ian Nelson in attendance. Tickets are $12. For advance tickets or more information, call (336)722-8148 or visit the website.