Full disclosure: I’ll watch Timothee Chalamet in anything. I will watch him drink coffee while reading the newspaper and be enthralled. When his newest film, Hot Summer Nights (out in limited release today), got mixed reviews, did I care? Nope. I was going to see this movie, even if it was filmed before Call Me By Your Name, so the guy looks about twelve.
Hot Summer Nights is the directorial debut of Elijah Bynum. He wrote the screenplay, too, and even based it on two guys he knew from college. Well, the guys he knew were more like legends—as are the characters in Hot Summer Nights. Narrated by a thirteen-year-old observer, it’s the story of Daniel and Hunter: two mismatched teenage boys who pretty much rule a drug empire in Cape Cod for a single summer before things go totally to shit.
From the first fast-paced opening minutes, rife with over-the-top dialogue and rapid scene changes, I was hooked. Hot Summer Nights takes place in ’91, so all that music, those clothes, that hair? Oh, I remember. It was like time traveling in my chair.
As Daniel, Timothee is the perfect ambitious nerd, while Hunter (played by yum-yum Alex Roe) is his brutal, cool-guy foil. The love story between Daniel and local sex goddess McKayla is a thing of little boy fantasies, especially a certain scene involving a lollipop.
About halfway through, with Hurricane Bob inching ever closer to Cape Cod, you feel the literal and metaphorical storm coming. The shift in tone is jarring, to be frank. Bynum goes from playful bathroom make out scenes to a sense of impending doom—but, in his defense, he set it up from the beginning, all via the character of Daniel.
Bynum said he cast a very, very young Timothee Chalamet as this character because he has a boyish quality but also a certain amount of darkness. Yeah, dude, spot on.
There’s a scene pretty early in Hot Summer Nights where Hunter beats the crap out of a dude in front of Daniel, and Daniel sort of smiles about it. He’s set up as a bit of a psychopath from the get go, so when the movie takes a twisted turn, it’s not surprising if you’ve been paying attention.
Honestly? Daniel is not a good guy. He selfishly lies to the two people he loves the most and makes horrible life choices—not for money or fame but for the thrill. When everything goes haywire with a literal hurricane in the background, it is not a shock. It’s sad, sure, because lives are ruined, but maybe Daniel and Hunter had this coming?
I understand why some reviewers are tearing the movie apart, because it is strange and almost a little silly. But when you consider the whole thing is told from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old boy, watching from the sidelines, every moment should feel epic and ridiculous. Yet there’s this huge amount of horror that creeps up like a monster in the night, especially a scene involving cocaine and Timothee in a trucker hat (an unexpected new fetish of mine).
Hot Summer Nights is and isn’t what you expect. It is a fast-paced summer movie about drugs, sex, and parties, but it’s also a violent drama about the end of innocence and youth. The lead players—both the boys and romantic interest Maika Monroe—are strong young actors, and there are definite glimpses of “Academy Award Nominee Timothee Chalamet.”
My advice? Get high and watch it. I mean, it’s a movie about weed. Smoke a little reefer and laugh at Daniel’s early shenanigans. Here’s hoping you mellow out by the time the storm arrives, because hell, by the end of the movie, it seriously arrives.