SXSW 2021: ‘Best Summer Ever’ Is A Diverse, If Predictable Musical

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Best Summer Ever

Best Summer Ever is a coming-of-age musical directed by Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli, and produced by a variety of actors including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Saarsgard and Jamie Lee Curtis. When he attends a dance camp over the summer, highly popular athlete Tony (Rickey Alexander Wilson) falls for nomadic pianist Sage (Shannon DeVido). A twist of fate lands Tony and Sage at the same school, and they try to work out their relationship while also dealing with Sage’s mothers running a marijuana farm off the books and Tony struggling with everyone’s sky high expectations-as well as duplicitous head cheerleader Beth (Madeline Rhodes).

The film is unique in its casting, as a large number of actors and crew involved in the production have disabilities. And what’s truly groundbreaking is that this is treated as a normal occurrence within the film. DeVido’s Sage utilizes a wheelchair for mobility, and The Peanut Butter Falcon‘s Zack Gottsagen makes an appearance as one of the school’s cheerleaders. I can’t tell you how great it was to see people on screen acting and not have their disabilities ignored or made the prime focus of their character arc. They’re allowed to crack jokes, to fall in love, to deliver hard truths.

The level of care put into this film extends to the subtitles, which not only accompany the songs but the dialogue. The conversation surrounding accessibility has often been brought up by other contributors on this site, as a disability can often lead to a difference in the way one processes sound and visuals. Given that a large number of disabled actors and crew members worked on this film, it definitely makes sense that Randa and Smitelli would put that same effort into making sure no matter who their audience was that they could enjoy the film.

In terms of songs, Best Summer Ever features eight original ones (with Rhodes helping write lyrics for all of the songs.) The film opens with “Best Summer Ever,” which is insanely catchy, and “Ready To Ride” features a dance number with clockwork-precision choreography. Even Beth gets her own villain song because every good musical should have the antagonist sing their feelings.

For all the great talent in front of and behind the camera, the story is sadly lacking. The jock struggling to live up to someone else’s dream, the star-crossed lovers, the “HBIC” cheerleader: this has all been touched upon before in other films. Even the “main character wants to dance” is more or less lifted from Footloose. I have no problem with tropes repeating across films, as they are essentially storytelling tools, but said tools can often be utilized in new and unique ways. That sadly wasn’t the case here.

Though Best Summer Ever features a rather predictable story and tropes for a high school/musical film, it more than makes up for it with a truly diverse cast and a catchy set of songs. It’s a “comfort food” movie: I sense it may become a favorite with theater kids in the future.

Best Summer Ever premiered at SXSW this Thursday during the Film Festival, and was distributed by Zeno Mountain Farm.

 

Best Summer Ever
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Though Best Summer Ever features a rather predictable story and tropes for a high school/musical film, it more than makes up for it with a truly diverse cast and a catchy set of songs. It’s a “comfort food” movie: I sense it may become a favorite with theater kids in the future.