The Movie Waffler Tribeca Film Festival 2024 Review - GRIFFIN IN SUMMER | The Movie Waffler

Tribeca Film Festival 2024 Review - GRIFFIN IN SUMMER

Griffin in Summer review
A budding teenage playwright becomes obsessed with his mother's handyman.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nicholas Colia

Starring: Everett Blunck, Owen Teague, Melanie Lynskey, Abby Ryder Fortson, Kathryn Newton

A throwback to the edgy indie comedies of the '90s, Nicholas Colia's risqué coming-of-age tale Griffin in Summer is a reminder of how rare it now is to find an American comedy that delivers laughs from start to finish. Colia pulls off the considerable balancing act of combining serious and unsettling issues with laugh out loud moments. There's genuine pathos here, and moments of tender drama, but they never get in the way of the jokes.

In newcomer Everett Blunck, Colia is blessed with a remarkable young actor who knows exactly how to make this tricky subject work. Blunck plays 14-year-old Griffin, an aspiring playwright who feels like he's surrounded by philistines in his small town. He dreams of moving to New York when he turns 18 and taking the off-Broadway scene by storm. But for this summer he'll have to settle for staging his latest play - 'Regrets of Autumn', a hilariously overwrought melodrama about a drunken housewife and her cheating husband - with a group of his friends in his basement.

Griffin in Summer review

Griffin is wise beyond his years but he's yet to learn the important lesson that nobody likes a smartass. His summer plans begin to fall apart when his "actors" refuse the 60 hours of weekly rehearsals he assigns (because it's the "Equity standard"), preferring to spend their summer, well, being 14. When his "director", Kara (Abby Ryder Fortson), heads away with her new boyfriend's family for a three week vacation, it seems Griffin's artistic ambitions have been thwarted. Why can't these cretins understand the importance of his work?

Griffin finds an unlikely artistic ally in Brad (Owen Teague), the twentysomething handyman hired by his mum (Melanie Lynskey) to perform a series of odd jobs over the summer. Blasting music and disrupting Griffin's creative process ("Art comes from a place of quiet," he lectures his mother in an attempt to have Brad fired), Brad initially gets on Griffin's nerves. But then Griffin notices Brad's biceps and suddenly has all the time in the world for this himbo stoner. In what plays like a reversal of the most notorious scene in Todd Solondz' Happiness, Griffin plies Brad with alcohol in an attempt to coax the older man into spending time with him. When Brad reveals that he's a "performance artist" who spends most of his time in New York, Griffin's mind is blown. Truly this is his soulmate! But as is usually the case with the objects of our youthful crushes, Brad is a moron, practically an intellectual neanderthal compared to Griffin, and also quite the asshole to boot.

Griffin in Summer review

Much of the comedy comes from the intellectual disparity between Griffin and the object of his inappropriate but relatable obsession. The mere mention of an artistic interest is enough to completely change Griffin's view of the knuckle-dragging Brad, and even when he's exposed to a clip of one of Brad's terrible stage performances, Griffin only respects the big lug all the more. Brad is so dense that he's completely oblivious to Griffin's attention, and blissfully unaware of the young boy's devious manipulations, like his attempts to get rid of Brad's bimbo girlfriend (a hilarious Kathryn Newton).

Blunck gets to showcase his talents off the bat with the movie opening with Griffin performing a one-man staging of an excerpt from his upcoming play to a disinterested school audience. Watching this kid perform an over-ripe approximation of what he considers "adult drama" will have you creased over in laughter, as will the subsequent scenes of his friends rehearsing the same play. There's a worry that the film night be too reliant on mining laughs from having kids mimicking adults, but Colia's film soon reassures us that it has a lot more to offer than such simple but undoubtedly effective comedy.

Griffin in Summer review

Amid all the awkward and icky humour of the central scenario is a heartfelt examination of how appreciating art can lead to social isolation. With each passing decade it seems art becomes less relevant, and those who try to keep it alive are mocked and labelled as pretentious over-thinkers by an increasingly anti-intellectual public. Brad appears to have no real talent and the jury is out regarding Griffin's future as a playwright, but they both have a passion for art that's so rare today you can't help but encourage their zeal. Griffin is the sort of kid who will likely be encouraged to give up his dreams by adults who view the world in terms of lining their pockets rather than enriching their souls, so this summer may very well be the highlight of his artistic ambitions. It's easy to laugh at how Brad and Griffin view art, but what Colia is really mocking here is a society that has turned artists into outsiders.

Griffin in Summer is a subtly scathing film but it's wrapped up in a layer of sweetness. As its young anti-hero negotiates his place in the world as both a young gay man and a budding artist, it's ultimately heartwarming and hopeful in its suggestion that all outsiders need to stop feeling like outsiders is to come across some others who feel like they don't belong.

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