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Home » Culture and Criticism

White Water Summer

Submitted by on June 12, 2008 – 8:30 AM38 Comments

The 12 Days Of Summer Movies eccchs-travaganza concludes with a gem known only to HBO subscribers of the late '80s, in which the lady who played Ray Pruit's mama ("with one T, 'cause that's all she could afford") gets nearly as much screentime as the rapids for which the movie's ostensibly named: White Water Summer.The next time you have trouble connecting The Woodsman to Steel Magnolias in Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon, you'll thank Bunting for revisiting this movie, but until then, you'll wonder, as she does, why she watched this seventeen times back in the day.

And the next time you think of a summer movie we should cover next year — or other seasonal movies we should consider — drop us a comment or an email.Hat-tips to the Couch Baron and Joe R, and thanks for joining us for the 12 Days Of Summer Movies.

Summer Mission: Four teenage dudes embark on an Outward-Bound-type adventure with trip leader Vic (Kevin Bacon), an outdoorsy sort who's a little too psyched about putting the teens in dangerous situations in order to force them to rely on their inner resources, trust each other, blah blah NOLS blah.Everyone in the troop is down with Vic at first, except Alan (Sean Astin), a refreshingly three-dimensional nerd by movie standards; Alan thinks Vic is power-tripping, and stubbornly refuses to obey orders on the trail when he thinks they don't make sense.Unsurprisingly, this leads first to peril and then to redemption.

It had been years since I'd last seen White Water Summer, but I watched it several times as a teen, and I remember Vic as a way bigger, crazier asshole than he actually is.I think the movie wants us to distrust him because he does yoga and won't let Alan listen to the Mets on his portable radio (that last thing would have qualified him for villainy in my eyes when I was 15), but until he leaves Alan dangling off the side of Devil's Tooth on a belay line to toughen him up, Vic isn't behaving all that unreasonably — and in the end, although I question his methods, his instincts are right.Alan does overcome his fear of heights and scramble out of jeopardy under his own steam — and when Vic gets seriously injured (thanks almost entirely to a revolt prompted by his treatment of Alan), it's Alan who takes charge and gets him to safety.

It's a weird little movie, not least because I spent a good half an hour trying to place where I'd seen Mitch before (played by Jonathan Adler, he's one of Julia Roberts's brothers in Steel Magnolias…and this is not one of those times where I'm proud to say that I didn't have to look that shit up on IMDb), but mostly because I don't think it knows what kind of movie it is.The wraparound scenes with Astin talking to the audience got shot almost two years after the rest of the movie, and while the gimmick does its job — Alan is a likeable character, and also, without them the movie would be barely an hour long — Astin has passed noticeably to a later stage of pubescence therein.And none of the other so-called "city kids" come off as that "city," not even Alan, who, while he isn't keen on going on the trip, isn't your stereotypical movie New Yorker about the great outdoors: he doesn't get a ton of blisters, he isn't neutered by losing his glasses, we don't hear any complainy obsessing about bugs or bears or having to go to the bathroom outside (in fact, the latter leads to a semi-cute bonding scene), and when it's time to catch fish or haul Vic's broken-legged ass out of a ravine, Alan rigs up the necessary machinery in no time.

I like that about it, though — that not only could Alan have passed most of Vic's 90210-sweat-lodge-episode-y "tests" all along, Alan knows that himself.He's not inept in the face of nature; rather, he's a mouthy skeptic, and by the midway point he's won the other kids over, which is less of a cliché.

Alas, without those enemies-band-together-against-wilderness clichés, the movie's plot is on the lean side, and you may wonder what the movie's trying to do, but you don't have to wonder long — White Water Summer comes in at a brisk 90 minutes and doesn't preach or drag.The soundtrack, on the other hand…

Enviable Vacation Locale?: The cinematography — compliments of John Alcott, a Kubrick DP who died before the movie came out — is amazing; the rope-bridge crossing is a real nail-biter.And the countryside is beautiful; I'd definitely take a vacay in those woods, if my travel agent could guarantee me that Bruce Hornsby wouldn't follow me around the whole time bleating about the western skyline, which is what he does in fully half the scenes.

Coming Of Age?: No doubt it got pitched as a coming-of-age tale, but because the main character is already competent, the plot kind of has nowhere to go with that.

Best Summer Ever?: Not for Vic, who got a nasty concussion and will probably have to have that leg re-broken surgically, not to mention all the blood he lost and the firing he's going to take for completely losing control of the kids…and probably not for Chris either, once the authorities find out Vic got hurt in the first place because Chris winged a rock at his head.Mitch and George get some good stories out of it, though, and it's 1987 in the movie's world, so Alan's psyched: the Mets are World Champs.

Summer Fashions: Not applicable.It's a hiking trip; everyone wears the same outfit the whole movie.There's some patented Alex-P.-Keaton-moussed-bear-claw action going on on Astin in the interstitial scenes, I guess.

Worth The A/C?: Yessir.

As A Summer Movie: B

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38 Comments »

  • solaana says:

    Well, I think the 12 Days format lends itself rather obviously to xmas, in which case you could do non-traditional (i.e. no movies with Santa in them, also no Xmas Story or that one with Jimmy Stewart that I cannot remember the name of even though it's the most famous xmas movie of all time…wow.) movies like While You Were Sleeping, that one with Ethan Embry and Thora Birch…I know there are others, but as everyone can see, my brain is on auxiliary power right now.

    Or, you could do 12 Days of New Years, or Valentine's Day, or some such, where said eve or day is the deadline for stuff, but all I can think of off the top of my head is Sleepless in Seattle.

  • Kama Cath says:

    Instead of 12 Days do the 12 Steps. Twelve movies about recovery/ alcoholism/ drug abuse.

  • tixie says:

    oh man, please tell me i'm not the only one on here who has seen that movie…

  • Margaret in CO says:

    @solaana: "It's A Wonderful Life" I love that movie so much! And I like your suggestion! Can we Sars, can we can we? (said in my best kid-in-the-back-seat-who-wants-ice-cream whine!)

  • Cindi in CO says:

    Other non-traditional Christmas movies:

    Trading Places
    The Ref
    Bad Santa
    Elf
    Home Alone
    Nightmare Before Christmas
    Scrooged
    Die Hard
    The Family Stone
    Home For The Holiday

  • Rachel W. says:

    A round of thanks for the quality corporate-procrastination fodder! As with endless "American Idol" recaps (hi, Joe R.!), I could enjoy the write-ups without ever having seen a single one of those movies. I should get on that, though.

    I'm in no position to make creative recommendations for future themes (…if I were up to thinking at the moment, I wouldn't be rooting through internet, looking for entertainment – or so I tell myself), but I do have a film for next year's list: The Long, Hot Summer, starring lovely young Paul Newman, Orson Welles (playing Willie Stark, oddly), and a brutally coiffed Joanne Woodward.

    I look forward to seeing what the reviewer makes of the "Summer Fashions": how to reconcile Mr. Newman's glorious lack of shirt and Ms. Woodward's "Are These Bangs Repressed Enough For You? Eh? And The Bun?" hairdo? Thank goodness for professionals.

  • meltina says:

    @solaana: that is a great idea.

  • Terry says:

    @ tixie: no – I've seen this movie too and had forgotten all about it until Sars posted this.

  • Amie says:

    I…. went through a Sean Astin phase. I know, who goes through a Sean Astin phase? Me, ok? Anyway, I really liked this movie. It did not change my opinion of outdoor pursuits at all, which is, and remains: Neat in theory, horrible in practice.

  • Nicole says:

    Love, love, love, LOVE you for rreviewing this movie! And thank you for confirming that Kevin Bacon was not EEEEVIL! I have had more arguments with people over that!

  • Lis says:

    @tixie, don't worry, you're not alone. I actually watched this a few months ago on cable… no I don't know why other than it was Sunday and I had nothing better to do and a torn ligament in my knee… it was as odd as I remembered (that could have been the pain killers too)

  • Devin McCullen says:

    How about 12 Days of the Olympics, with non-base/foot/basket ball sports movies? There's Breaking Away, and Victory, the Prefontaine movies…well, canoeing's an Olympic sport, so maybe you could count Deliverance?

  • Rachel says:

    Xmas movies, definitely! Maybe as a Christmas In July sort of deal?

    I'm nominating The Ref.

  • Cindi in CO says:

    Christmas movies I would like to see reviewed:

    The Ref
    Trading Places
    Bad Santa
    Die Hard – Hey, it takes place at Christmas!
    The Family Stone

    Thank you. That is all.

  • Miglet says:

    Don't feel bad Sars – that's what 80's HBO was all about. Watching White Water Summer, Spacecamp, and BMX Bandits over, and over, and over…

  • solaana says:

    @ Cindi: You are my hero. I knew there were those movies out there. Maybe even that horrible one with John Cusack where he's stuck in some place over in Idaho or something?

    I also love the Olympics idea, but that's because I love love love that Jamaican bobsledding movie.

    Oooh, maybe a twelve days of Kids' Flicks (Sports, Summer…something other running theme)? e.g. The Sandlot, Mighty Ducks, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants…or OOOOOH! (I just had lunch so I'm awake now) How about 80s kids' movies? They were so inappropriate and scarring, from what I remember – e.g. Labyrinth, Howard the Duck (was that a kids' movie? I watched it when I was a kid and hello trauma – ruined for Cleveland me) The Last Unicorn, that one with the scary puppets…I'm telling you, there's a lot of pick from. Stupid David Bowie's crotch. I still have nightmares.

  • solaana says:

    I apologize for my post-lunch coma-related English skillz. That last post of mine is a mess.

    And to add: Return to Oz and Neverending Story.

  • Annie says:

    I realize everyone has seen it, but I would love an hilarious assessment of Dirty Dancing.

  • Isis Uptown says:

    Twelve days of Winter: The Lion in Winter; Dead of Winter; Winter Kills; The Last Winter; The Winter Guest; The Winter People; In the Winter Dark; Winter Solstice; Winter Passing; Winter Light; Winter Soldier; Bamboo in Winter. (All available from Netflix.)

    Now the word "winter" looks like a typo, as I've typed it too many times.

  • Eires32 says:

    My ideas for more Christmas movies:
    Little Women (the Gillian Armstrong version w/Winona Ryder)
    Christmas in Connecticut
    Meet Me in St. Louis

  • cayenne says:

    I'm liking the idea of Xmas movies, and as someone who can't handle the diabetic-coma-on-film types of holiday movies (you know which ones they are), I emphatically second Trading Places – it's most definitely a holiday flick. Love it, watch it every time it's on, and snarl at the ridiculous v/o's – "let's kick some butt"? How offensive is "let's kick some ass", anyway? You get worse language in the "family hour" now; please just air the original voice track.

    For the non-denominational, how about wackadoo 80s movies? Xanadu, Grease 2, Streets of Fire, Last Starfighter, Buckaroo Banzai, Better off Dead, Night of the Comet, I could go on…

  • Miglet says:

    @solaana – "that one with the scary puppets" – The Dark Crystal? 'Cause that movie rocks.

  • Scarlettb says:

    @Devin – if they're doing Olympic sports, I had better see a review for Stick It!

  • wendalette says:

    Oh yeah, Labryinth! I lurved that movie as a kid. And as a teen i had an inexplicable crush on Bowie in that. um…yeah…I don't know what to think of that either. Esp. now as an adult, I agree with solaana about the crotch.
    And the Dark Crystal? Special place in my heart because the little blond puppet girl? Looked like my brother's first girlfriend. (They were both six years old at the time.)
    They scarred me too, in the sense that I was spoiled for traditional kids' movies ever after. Just too mindless and saccharine for me.

  • Kathryn T. says:

    The best Christmas movie ever, hands down, is A Lion in Winter. If your family errs on the dysfunctional side, it's even better, because you can watch Katharine Hepburn snarl about how "of course he has a knife! We all have knives! It's 1183 and we're all barbaians!" and reminisce about how your family may be assholes, but at least your father never tried to marry your girlfriend to screw you out of being king.

  • L.H. says:

    My all-time favorite nontraditional XMas movie is Love Actually. The most heartwarming holiday movie to feature mental illness, funerals, adultery and porn-actor-stand-ins EVER.

  • MelanieRose says:

    Maybe a Halloween theme with top cheesy horror movies?

    Some sort of "When Nature Attacks!" theme… I'm watching "Shark Attack 3: Megaladon" right now, and it definitely warrants the Sars treatment.

    St. Patrick's Day, with a "those kooky Irish folk!" theme (Snatch, Boondock Saints, Crying Game, Trainspotting, etc).

    Gay Pride week with a bunch of great gay-themed movies? More in the direction of "Adam & Steve" than "Philadelphia," just to make it fun.

    K, I'm done.

  • dr. e says:

    Olympic sports! "Men with Brooms" will cover the curling events.

  • Cindi in CO says:

    @cayenne:

    I second the wacky 80s movie theme.

    Night of the Comet! God, I loved that movie, I think it was the only end-of-the-world flick ever aimed directly at chicks. It was so bad it was great. What do you do when civilization collapses? Take your automatic weapon, and go to the mall! Best line ever? "I'm sorry if the end of the world gives me a rash, okay?"

  • Rachel says:

    Olympic sports? How about "Slap Shot" or "National Velvet" or "The Karate Kid"? Karate's an Olympic sport now, right?

    As for the 12 Days of 12 Steps, I'm wondering if it would be depressing. I don't mean the subject matter, btw. I mean, "When a Man Loves a Woman", "28 Days", and "School Daze" – those movies were so bad that I'd hate to inflict them on anyone.

  • Jed says:

    Ooh! If you do the Olympics, you have to do "Ice Castles." Gotta love Melissa Manchester's overwrought theme.

  • E.S. says:

    Christmas movies:

    Millions, directed by Danny Boyle — it's OK for kids without being simple minded or condescending…and there are a couple of genuinely scary moments (dude directed 28 Days Later…he knows how to bring the eeek!)

    Last Holiday, starring Queen Latifah.

    <3 Dark Crystal. I think I'll go add it to my Netflix pile right now.

  • cayenne says:

    @Jed – I even learned to play that music on the piano. Frightening.

    And Olympics movies must include "The Cutting Edge". Toe pick!

  • Sophie says:

    I did think "Little Darlings" might show up on this list — I guess I'll just have to Netflix it and internally review it on my own.

  • Krissa says:

    I am SURE we need 12 days of horror flicks. I don't even like horror flicks, but I would read recaps of them forever.

  • Samantha says:

    I don't know where this would fit in, theme-wise, but "White Wolves: A Cry in the Wild II" is an unheralded treasure. Or at least it seemed that way fifteen years ago.

  • Tom says:

    I second the, "Am I the only person who's seen this?" I think my friends and I rented this about 20 times back in 1987. At 10 years old, it was one of the coolest movies. I still have yet to cross a rope bridge that high.

    The soundtrack leaves something to be desired, even if they use the oft-forgotten Journey gem, "Be Good to Yourself" (Randy Jackson on bass!) in the end credits.

  • Felis D says:

    Another vote for Olympic movies!!! And "Cool Runnings" would have to be included in the list!!! :D

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