As a movie geek there are certain holidays, or times of year that stand out for you and make you want to just gulp down every last film you can with that theme or setting. As a horror fan Halloween is a big one, obviously, but so too is the Christmas season among others. With the official beginning of summer here – the pandemic pushing far enough into the year that the summer movie season doesn’t quite exist, ergo leaving us to go by the established calendar and not some arbitrary studio one – it makes me yearn for movies about summer camps, and being outside, and traveling, and just enjoying the world. Different seasons mean different things to each of us, obviously, but for me summer reminds me of the years after I was out of high school and just finding myself and who I was. It reminds me of being a kid and talking walks down our street at all hours. It makes me think of sleeping in and staying up all night watching movies. It makes me think of being at a playground on the swings.
The memories flood back, and they are as melancholy as they are happy, the way most memory trunks are.
To celebrate the coming of summer I busted out two favorites of the season.
First up was MEATBALLS, late ‘70’s summer camp starring Bill Muray. It’s a silly, simple story of a summer spent at a sort of budge summer camp and the people that populate it. The heart of the film is a friendship between Murray’s character, the head counselor, and a young outcast that doesn’t seem to fit in. The film is utter ridiculousness with awkward romances, slapstick comedy, and culminating Olympics-style competition with a rival camp. It’s pure nostalgic nonsense and I love it. Murray was just coming into his own and he’s set at full blast here and allowed to just roam but it’s his sincerity that makes the movie, and its relationship between an outcast and what you can guess is a former outcast so special. The film oozes charm just as it does juvenility but yet it works, and it works because it all feels sincere. These feel like friends, they feel like young people at a summer camp having fun, and it’s that that gives the film its magic. There’s not any nastiness and for someone who loves darker stories, it’s refreshing. It’s like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold day. I think too I love the film because it speaks to the part of me that remembers those formative summers and still sees much of it in fading amber light of nostalgia. The irony of all of this is that I only did day camps as a kid. Heck, I skipped the big camping get away that my eighth-grade class did at the end of that school year, not wanting to be away from home, and not really ready for that weird step towards being a full-fledged teen. Still, I can fully embrace that idealized of view of the summer camps that never quite were, the drama, and fear, and isolation, and bug bites, and boredom, and the rest of it lost for the length of a silly old movie.
My second feature was a newer film called ADVENTURELAND about Jesse Eisenberg needing to work the summer at a local theme park to get money for college. Eisenberg befriends Kristen Stewart, and the film is about the strange world of the park and the budding romance the two leads. This is another film that has become magic for me because of the ensemble cast and the sense of fun here. Unlike MEATBALLS though there’s a heavy dose of melancholy towards the end, which really, really gets me. It’s the longing and heartbreak that hovers around the edges of the film that I connect with. The sense of dreams denied and deferred. This is a film about young people playing at being adults while not even close to having things figured out. I lived that life and still feel like I do to some degree. That’s part of adulthood that is never told to you though, that you may never feel comfortable or at ease but that that doesn’t mean you aren’t all growed up. That’s just how it works. Adulthood just sneaks up on you and then you are paying bills and holding down a job, and moving out and crap, there you are. The magic of the film is the longing between Stewart and Eisenberg and the fact that longing isn’t enough. Their relationship typifies one of those truths about growing up, that your relationships and what you need from them change to. Having worked in a lot of jobs over my years I have never quite had the same camaraderie that is in ADVENTURELAND, but I can appreciate it because I have seen it. I have seen how that shared bond draws you closer. I think because the film reminds me of my youth and working a summer gig painting one year and just the feelings of that night life where anything could happen when you were young draw me to the film as much as anything else. It’s the bitter side of summer and adulthood with a taste of sweetness to go with it, and I love that.
I am an older guy now with a wife, and now a daughter and summers are different but still special in their ways and I look forward to the adventures we’re going to have with the kiddo, as we try to show her some of the magic of the season as well. I look forward to movies in the backyard, cooking out, fires and stories in the dark, and having fun together in this weird, wonderful world.