Review: Ping Pong Summer (Tully, 2014) – Sundance 2014

Courtesy of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival website

Courtesy of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival website

Unlike the other films we watched, Ping Pong Summer competed in Sundance’s NEXT category, which showcases “pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling.” Translation: wackier and somewhat lower budget movies. Ping Pong Summer was not my first choice in this time slot, but I ended up going to this movie because my friends were drawn in by its description: “the ultimate love letter to the 1980s coming-of-age comedy.” We are a group that deals in nostalgia (though mine is of a different and more specific variety), so how could we resist? Though the film takes place in 1985, when we were only three or four, my friend pointed out that many of the technologies and aesthetic sensibilities persisted well into the early 1990s, when we would have become aware of them.

It was a fun/ny movie that indeed felt nostalgic, from the grainy/muted-color cast of the film to the cheesy overlay of the hero’s face on top of scenes from Ocean City, Maryland. There were plenty of scenes of video game arcades, slurpees, awkward dancing, and boombox-bedecked beaches to satisfy any 30- to 40-year-old who wants to revel in memories of his childhood.

The cast, most of whom weren’t alive during the period the film takes place, were charmingly authentic to my memories of that time. That must have all been in the directing since Michael Tully specifically kept his young cast members from watching 80s films. Also, it was refreshing to finally have real teenagers playing teenage roles. At the Q&A, you could see that some of them have gone through puberty since production (how slippery that period of human life is!).

Susan Sarandon gave a satisfying performance as the movie’s Miyagi-like character. Having originally written the role for a man, Tully eventually changed direction and adapted it for a female, which I thought was a good choice.

I’ve never been a huge aficionado of 80s films and don’t possess the deep longing for that time that my friends do, but I nonetheless enjoyed this humorous, semi-autobiographical, tongue-in-cheek film. After it was over, my friend wondered out loud whether this movie would be good outside the context of Sundance. Impossible to tell.

Acquisition note: For those of you who can’t wait to see this movie, you can rest assured that the film will be distributed by Gravitas Ventures (warning: their website is super hokey).