This post has minor spoilers for the A24 movie, Hot Summer Nights.
Hot Summer Nights, the summer-soaked, weed-stenched indie drama starring Timothée Chalamet, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe, and Maia Mitchell, feels like a cult classic in the making.
Set in the early '90s on Cape Cod, it ticks all the boxes on my personal 2018 checklist of requirements for an ideal summer movie: Timmy, a convertible-worthy soundtrack, and carefree young women doing whatever the hell they want. Hot Summer Nights meets all this criteria, and so while I wouldn't call it the best movie of the summer, it is in fact the most ideal.
Daniel (Chalamet) is a young polo shirt-loving teen who spends a life-changing summer in Cape Cod with his aunt after his father's death. He's a quiet outsider with a talent for selling drugs. He quickly discovers this penchant after befriending the town's drug dealer, Hunter (Roe), who is more than happy being an outsider and supplying the "summer birds" with eighths of weed. Hunter happens to be the older brother of McKayla (Monroe), the most popular and sought-after girl in town, and whom skinny, gawky Daniel eventually falls for. The summer of drugs also becomes the summer of love when Hunter surprises himself by being interested in the not-so-innocent daughter of the island's sheriff, Amy (Mitchell).
But for a movie that is primarily centered around the trouble that two restless, ambitious, and stoned guys can get into in one summer, its most interesting characters are the ladies. The men are the ones selling the drugs, but the women are the ones taking that shit to the next level. The vibe-y film shines most when its writer and director Elijah Bynum turns his camera to highlight the sass and intrigue of McKayla and Amy. Whether it's McKayla seductively eating a lollipop in the center of a drug store ("It was very awkward to be totally honest," Monroe told Refinery29. "I was just looking straight down the lens of the camera, and I just felt very awkward like, 'Oh man...my dad can never see this'"), or Amy dousing her entire plate with ketchup at a diner to taunt Hunter ( "Amy saw beyond the facade of Hunter the bad boy," Mitchell told Refinery29, "she saw him for who he was and his vulnerabilities."), these snippets of young, pure chemistry are the heart of this film.
That instant connection was the result of many actual hot summer nights spent together. "We were each given a budget of how much you can use for housing, and so Alex and I were like, 'Why don’t we just put all of our housing money together and get a big house with a pool?'" Monroe said. "Alex had gotten to spend time with Timothée, and they had gotten along really well. I had done a chemistry read with Timothée when I met him, and we all got along really well, too. So, we decided to get this creepy old big house a pool."
"I feel like the housing could have gone terribly wrong," Monroe joked. "You really get to know a person when you live with them. It was one of the most fun times I’ve had on a movie, and I think it helped immensely with creating a realistic relationship with these people. I’d worked with Alex before, so that was nice, but just feeling so comfortable and really getting to know the other actors, it was a really special experience."
Mitchell was not given the luxury of bonding with her castmates in a creepy old house in Georgia (the movie was actually filmed around Atlanta). Instead, she was brought onto the project halfway through and had to create a movie-worthy relationship with Alex in... less than 10 minutes. "I met Alex the first day of filming, so it was like, 'Nice to meet you,' and then we were shooting a scene together five minutes later," she said. "It was really on the fly, but the chemistry and relationship and dynamic happened quite naturally."
But a hot summer movie isn't just about chemistry or attractive people playing roles — it's mostly about the actual characters and how they've been written. Both of the girls in the film have a surprising edge and bite to them. "She seems like someone who could be easily swayed or manipulated, like a soft and sweet character, but she’s got a little bit of grit behind her," Mitchell said of Amy. "In that relationship with Hunter, she was the control. There’s that moment where someone at the fair knocks her bear over, and she’s able to just look at him [when he tries to fight the guy] and be like, 'I know something better.'” She takes him in the back of the car and handles that situation. [Laughs.] She’s not just the cute girl next door with the sheriff father. She is much more than that."
That's essentially what drives the movie: The idea that someone isn't who they seem at first. Hunter isn't as tough as he seems, McKayla not as experienced (she's a virgin, which leads to Daniel inadvertently slut-shaming her for assuming otherwise), Amy not as innocent, and Daniel not as plucky.
If Amy looks innocent, but is really a boss, then McKayla is the exact opposite. She appears to glow with confidence, but really she's terrified at the idea of being forever branded *that* girl, thanks to a stream of endless rumors that surround her character. But instead of accepting the gossip plaguing the small seaside town, McKayla outsources: she finds a summer bird to form a real relationship with. And to actually lose her virginity to. "I feel like people make up this idea of who she is and think 'Of course she’s had sex because she wears those clothes and talks to those people,' but in actuality, it isn't true," Monroe said. "I liked that you viewed her a certain kind of way, and then as the story goes on you get to know her better and understand where she comes from and why she is the way that she is."
This growth doesn't really happen for our lovable goons, Daniel and Hunter. They start selling drugs together, fail at selling drugs together, and then...that's about it.
Off-screen, though, Chalamet has become one of the most talked about young actors in Hollywood. Since Hot Summer Nights was filmed pre-Call Me By Your Name, the baby-faced future Oscar nominee was just Timmo, the kid from New York who loved Broadway. "We ended up having the wrap party at the house," Monroe said when asked if they threw any Hot Summer Nights-inspired throwdowns. "But other than that, Timmo was really into Broadway tunes. He would like reenact scenes from Broadway musicals and then we’d have our own dance parties and make food. Nothing too crazy."
Now there's an idea for a sequel: Hot Summer Broadway Nights.
Hot Summer Nights is in theaters and on Direct TV VOD July 28.