MOVIE REVIEW (SXSW): ‘Best Summer Ever’ is a True-to-Genre Musical that Celebrates Diversity and Inclusion without Relying on it
Director: Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli
Writers: Will Halby, Terra Mackintosh, Michael Parks Randa, Andrew Pilkington, Lauren Smitelli
Stars: Shannon DeVido, Rickey Wilson Jr., MuMu, Jacob Waltuck, Emily Kranking, Eileen Grubba, Holly Palmer
Synopsis: A fresh and exhilarating take on the beloved teen musical genre featuring eight original songs and a fully integrated cast and crew of people with and without disabilities.
Have you seen Grease (1978)? Then you already understand the setup for the plot of Best Summer Ever. Two teenagers meet at summer camp, fall in love, and then they go their separate ways, unsure when they will see each other again. Sage (Shannon DeVido) gifts Tony (Rickey Wilson Jr.) flower seeds for him to plant and grow, and she will plant seeds, too. Their flowers will grow together even though they are apart. Quickly, though, their paths cross when they end up attending the same high school, unbeknownst to one another. Their true identities are revealed, especially when our leading man Tony is at a Pennsylvania school when he told Sage that he had a scholarship at a school in New York City.
Being that Tony is a football star in a small town, who is too afraid to open up about his passion for dance, and the camp he attended this summer was not a football camp, but a dance camp. Sage lives her life on the road because her two mothers prefer to travel around, growing and selling weed, as they claim—to help people with seizures and cancer. Their shared secret confesses deepen their bond and their relationship continues to grow.
An evil cheerleader, though, has set out to ruin their lives and relationship because of jealousy. Again—this film definitely plays to the tropes of the genre. She does her research and discovers Tony’s secret. She threatens to release images and videos of his dancing secret. She takes it even one step further and discovers Sage’s secret when she finds the weed plants growing in the woods. However, when the cops show up they find nothing because Tony has saved the day. He protects her with the flowers she gave him that he planted at his mother’s grave, digging them up and placing them in front of the weed plants, disguising their true identity to protect her and her mothers. Cue the “awwww” here.
For it being a musical, the sound and mixing truly lack quality. There are moments where the music overpowers the voice and honestly, most of the singing is just not good, unfortunately, and the original lyrics are so cheesy it is almost too cringe if it wasn’t so cute at the same time. It felt like watching a mediocre high school theatre performance, or a silly kids YouTube performance—all this being said, though, the cast is vibrant and upbeat which is exactly what is craved for a teenage musical genre film.
The diversity and inclusion are without a doubt the best parts of this film, and the fact that the cast is a mixture of people with and without disabilities, it totally goes unmentioned. These characters who are different and hardly showcased on screen, are naturally part of the story without it being the focus of the story. That was truly refreshing to see, and the normalization of this in future films is hopeful.