Review by Sean Boelman
Directed by Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli, Best Summer Ever is a charming new musical that’s notable for the message of inclusivity that it both teaches and practices. A tongue-in-cheek riff on teen musical tropes, it’s understandable why this won the award for Best Screenplay in the remote judging for the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival.
As is the case with most teen musicals, the film follows two star-crossed lovers who are destined to be together but part ways at the end of the summer, only to find themselves reunited by a twist of fate. Even though the overall arc of the movie can seem a bit conventional at times, the script does an excellent job of subverting expectations in regards to the characters.
All of the common archetypes for the teen movie are present, albeit in a slightly altered form. For example, one of the film’s leads starts off the movie seeming like he is going to be a stereotypical jock, but when he starts to show his true colors, it becomes clear that the writers have much more ambitious goals with the film.
Running a brief seventy-two minutes, the movie does start to feel rushed at times, but it is understandable given the ambitious nature of the film. It’s not easy to make a musical, much less one with such a low budget as this, and yet Randa and Smitelli are able to pull it off in a gloriously entertaining fashion.
There are eight songs on the soundtrack, and they are all pop-infused and very catchy. The musical numbers themselves are also pretty impressive, with dance choreography that is energetic and mostly very well-executed. Additionally, the use of color in the movie is very strong, giving the film that bright and jovial feel it needs to succeed.
More than anything else, though, the movie’s wonderful intentions are worthy of praise. The film features a fully-integrated cast of people with and without disabilities. What really makes this movie stand out, though, is that it doesn’t center itself around this fact. The plot has little to nothing to do with the characters’ disabilities. Instead, it’s simply a musical that features disabled actors.
The ensemble is definitely very talented, with plenty of great performers in the cast. It’s always nice to see a film like this that gives opportunities to actors and actresses like Shannon DeVido, who may not otherwise get the opportunity for a lead role like this. Higher-profile celebrities, such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, and Benjamin Bratt, also make cameos in the movie, presumably as a show of their support to the film’s cause.
Best Summer Ever will likely catch attention for the work of social activism that it is, but it will keep it as a legitimately entertaining and creative musical. It’s a sweet, wholesome, and crowd-pleasing movie that is so needed in times like these.
Best Summer Ever is screening as a part of the online edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 16-20.