Age of Summer

Movies presenting formational events chronicled in affectionate teenage nostalgia like Age of Summer (originally titled Kook) require innocence, and transplanted Midwesterner Doug Mills (Percy Hynes White), nicknamed Minnesota, is as naive as he is eager. Nothing happens during the summer of 1986 in Hermosa Beach to change his opinion that moving to the West Coast was akin to winning the lottery.

Doug’s guilelessness is key to director Bill Kiely’s lighthearted first feature, co-written with David B. Harris, which is more appreciative and less raunchy than an actual 1980s teen movie. The way Kiely views Minnesota’s first crush, Brooke (Charlotte Sabina), an accomplished surfer and star of the South Bay Junior Lifeguards, illustrates this: She’s celebrated as an athlete instead of fetishized as an object of unrequited lust.

Kiely’s background documenting surfing and skateboarding competitions translates into glorious sequences that celebrate free-flowing movement while revealing a character’s personality. After his bike is stolen, Minnesota receives a skateboard from the trippy-dippy Rock God (Peter Stormare, shifting his eccentric, intimidating presence to edifying comic roles) and begins to acclimate to the breezy insouciance of his beach-loving peers.

Cinematographer Darin Moran makes the Pacific Ocean bright and inviting enough to send landlocked viewers into spasms of California dreaming, and Kiely’s oddballs (Irish actor Diarmaid Murtagh plays the lifeguard squad leader as a gale-force Aussie) wouldn’t be out of place in the Beach Blanket Bingo era. Even a disintegrating friendship with the defiantly nerdy Woods (Jake Ryan) doesn’t harsh Minnesota’s mellow. There’s plenty of sun and fun, but it’s Kiely’s presentation of a teen finding his bliss that makes Age of Summer a disarmingly pleasant diversion.

Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on September 7, 2018 by Freestyle Releasing
First published in LA Weekly, 2018.