Summer Of Sam
Today's 12 Days offering is a quantum leap of ahead of yesterday's in terms of the acting quality (mostly…Mira), and it gets a Gotham heat wave exactly right.Bunting takes a break from a Gotham heat wave of her own to examine Summer Of Sam.
Summer Mission: To survive.The movie takes place in New York City in the infamous summer of '77 — the Son of Sam is on the loose, it's hot as hell, brownouts, looting, you know the drill.
On a more micro scale, Vinny (John Leguizamo, doing top-notch work with a too-obviously-written and faintly despicable character) is trying to hold together his marriage to Dionna (Mira Sorvino, overmatched as usual) while cheating on her with a cast of dozens; Richie (Adrien Brody) is doing the punk thing while working at a gay strip joint and falling in love with Ruby (Jennifer Esposito); the cops (including Anthony LaPaglia and his righteous sideburns) ask for the Mob's help finding the .44-Caliber Killer; and the neighborhood mooks (Michael "Jackie Sr." Rispoli among them) drink beer, have fugly blow-dries, and harass people.
I like Spike Lee, and I forgive him his failures because usually there's something interesting going on even if it doesn't work.That's the case with Summer Of Sam, which can't decide if it's a time capsule or a character study, and because a lot of time is spent establishing the former, the story doesn't hang together well as the latter.You get a lot of montages, and set pieces accompanied by '70s disco and soul, and while it's shot beautifully by Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind), these sequences slow the narrative down — and when Lee turns his attention back to the characters, then their scenes go on too long.
Lee's trying to do a little too much, and the story feels fragmented as a result, but the movie does a lot of things right.The acting is good throughout; where it's not, the dialogue or scene structure is often at fault.Kuras does a great job of making you feel how hot it is, and Lee can lean too hard on direct address to camera, but his use of it here using Jimmy Breslin is effective.
The movie's not an overall success — a little too slow, a little too obvious — but it didn't deserve the critical caning it got when it came out, and it's worth a look.
Enviable Vacation Locale?: The Bronx during a heat wave, with a serial killer on the loose?Yeah, not so much.There's a reason my parents went to Jersey to have their kids, and it's this shit.I wouldn't mind watching that Yankees team instead of the one we've got this year, but I'm also a fan of not getting shot in the head.
Quick-Burning Summer Romance?: Based on what we see in the Plato's Retreat sequence, Vinny does, um, "burn" pretty "quick."Richie's relationship with Ruby is a romance, I guess, but it's kind of cynical and bent, in ways Lee doesn't fully explore.So, no.
Best Summer Ever?: Emphatic no.
Unconventional Ways To Beat The Heat: Actually, the movie nails these.You see couples climb into the bathtub with bags of ice from the deli; Dionna and her dad and Vinny kick it in her dad's restaurant's walk-in freezer, playing cards; Richie's mom and stepdad (Patti LuPone and Mike Starr, way underused) have seven fans arranged around them to watch TV.The set-up for the brownout, which makes a point of showing all the electric fans all over the place in the dozen shots prior, is excellent.
Summer Fashions: Also good.There's always the danger in movies set in the '70s that the costume design is going to turn into a big distraction; Ruth E. Carter gets it right without getting all "look, Ma, polyester!" about it.
Worth The A/C?: I'd say yes — it's nice and long, so even if you're only there to nap, you'll fit in a nice long one.Wake up for credits fun that includes John Turturro as the voice of the dog; Phil "Rizuto" as himself; Evander Holyfield in a riot scene; and a high-school friend of mine playing Rocco's girlfriend (evidently; I've seen the movie probably four times, but never have been able to spot her).
As A Summer Movie: Scores poorly on the mindless-entertainment index, but it's fun to look at and does an excellent job of evoking hot town, summer in the city, so: A-minus.
Tags: 12 Days Of Summer Movies