Peanut butter and jelly. Needle and thread. Spaghetti and meatballs. Coming-of-age stories and road trip movies. These are the things that go together to make the perfect pairing.
“Summerland,” a micro-budget film from directors Kurtis David Harder and Noah Kentis (a duo billed as Lankyboy), sticks to a tried-and-true format to tell its sweet, honest narrative about finding yourself and discovering the place where you belong in the world. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but the sentiment drives the heart of the project.
Bray (Chris Ball) is a gay high school senior who has fallen head over heels for long-haired, blonde dreamboat Shawn (Dylan Playfair) that he catfished on a Christian dating site. Bray has been pretending to be his best friend’s (Rory J. Saper) girlfriend, the pretty and popular Stacey (Maddie Phillips), but he’s sure that Shawn is questioning his own sexuality and is a homosexual too — he just doesn’t know it yet. After setting up a rendezvous at the Summerland music festival, Bray recruits his pals to join him. The three teens set off in a borrowed RV for a long road trip to the desert.
The film has a homegrown feel with amateurish performances and simplistic direction. It falls victim to annoying indie film groaners like the solitary underwater freak-out, lengthy love-letter montages around a city (here it’s San Francisco), and extended drug and dancing scenes that are nothing but filler. The story flow is choppy, and several of the jokes are set up and eventually played straight, which leads to an unsatisfying letdown. Most of the funny quips are only inserted into the movie so they look good in the trailer.
All of this may sound like the makings of an inferior movie, but “Summerland” isn’t a stinker. Despite its flaws, there’s something so comforting about the film. The trio of leads is charming, and using the perspective of a young gay man to lead the story may not be original, but it works. There’s a bittersweet feeling that the characters will still end up alone, but it’s the friends who become family along life’s journey that matter, so make every second count. Sure, it’s a cliché, but the genuine message isn’t lost in this likeably imperfect movie.
By: Louisa Moore