In baseball terms, Indian Summer hits for contact and gets a solid base hit, versus swinging for the fence and striking out. Fun, funny, well-directed, finely-acted little gem.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
My wife and I were watching an early scene in this movie where Stick, the camp helper, accidentally drops some luggage in the lake and ends up having to do some outrageous body contortions to avoid falling in himself. She commented, "You'd actually have to be a really good actor to pull that off." She was right, and that was before we realized the actor was Sam Raimi, director of the Evil Dead trilogy, Spider-Man, etc. As For Raimi's performance, his oddball/klutz-type character is used mostly for physical comedy, and I'm happy to tell you he can pull it off as an actor as well as a director.
The rest of the movie, you ask? It's really good. Director Mike Binder found a nice medium between laughs and real character development, and he benefits from a talented-but-underused cast.
Alan Arkin stars as Uncle Lou (or "Unca Lou") a man who has been running Camp Tamakwa, a small arrangements of cabins by a lake in Canada (filmed on location in Algonquin Park, Ontario), for almost forty years. He turns in a nicely measured performance as a character who initially seems somewhat cold, but eventually the subtle touches of humanity show through more and more, and Arkin handles this gracefully.
A group of now-grown childhood friends, some of whom have kept in contact, accepts Lou's invitation for a reunion, and the movie begins with them showing up at the camp. Matt Craven (most recognizable to me for a minor role he played in Crimson Tide as one of the officers on the submarine) is Jamie, the former womanizer who shows up to the reunion with his young fiancee Gwen (Kimberly Williams, best known as the bride in the Father of the Bride movies). The two are apparently blissfully engaged, but through the course of the movie Jamie turns out to still be quite a chauvinist jerk, and Gwen gets revenge in a creative and hilarious manner.
Matthew Berman (Vincent Spano, who seems to have started off promisingly but never caught a big break) and his wife Kelly (Julie Warner, the lovely star of Doc Hollywood and So I Married an Axe-Murderer) have come to the camp not only to be reunited with their friends, but also with the stated purpose of sorting out their marriage, which has become distant. Complicating this is the presence of Jennifer (Elizabeth Perkins), who is Matt's old camp girlfriend as well as Kelly's friend, and is dangerously lonely and unattached herself.
The brilliant character actor Kevin Pollak (A Few Good Men, That Thing You Do, Grumpy Old Men) plays Matt's cousin Brad, a somewhat selfish businessman with whom Matt works (unhappily, we learn, as it turns out he longs for something more artistic). His is one of several characters that could have been one-dimensional, but is rounded out by a penchant for camp pranks (here called 'shrecks') for which the others are constantly getting back at him.
Bill Paxton (Titanic, Twister) is as good as I've ever seen him here. Like Keanu Reeves, he seems only able to play one kind of character, and is good only when the character is that way on purpose--when he 'plays himself.' For Reeves 'himself' seems to be the wastoid character in Bill and Ted, the dimwitted villain in Raimi's The Gift, or the occasional action hero; for Paxton, 'himself' is this, a hippyish outcast type named Jack Belston, who was kicked out of camp and none of the others had seen since. We come to find out what led to his expulsion, and his reconciliation with Unca Lou is a prime example of Binder's ability (both as screenwriter and director) to get sentimental without gushing over the top.
Another emotionally loaded character whose appearance surprises the others is Beth (Diane Lane, The Perfect Storm, Unfaithful), whose husband Rick, once a central member of the camp gang, has died a year before, and is still grieving. The steps she will take toward healing are easy to see coming, but Binder handles them gracefully, so I didn't mind.
The real beauty of the proceedings here is the character development. None of the above-mentioned cast is shown as entirely one-dimensional (the closest is Jamie, and I suppose Stick, who is there almost entirely for slapstick), and none of them leave without having grown or changed in some way. So many stories lack dynamic characters that one would think it nearly impossible to pull off, but like everything about this movie, it is handled so deftly you won't think twice.
There are a lot of good laughs here and not much objectionable for most people--some marijuana use, minor language, and implied sex--but none of these are the focus of the film, unlike another camp comedy I've heard about this summer, American Pie 2. I can understand people not liking this if they aren't old enough to have experienced coming back to childhood places and relationships after a long time away; that bittersweet sense pervades the movie, and could be lost on youngsters. Likewise, don't come into this expecting anything like the above-mentioned comedy (except perhaps its sweetly sentimental teen romance alter ego); no gross-outs or nudity here. Well, okay, there is one nudity scene, which plays a vital function to the story, but we don't see anything, which will disappoint some.
If you are hoping for an easy-going, understated, bittersweet tale of reunion with friends from younger days, I recommend this far beyond The Big Chill, the most famous film of the genre, and the one to which this movie most often draws comparison. Indian Summer doesn't try as hard as Chill to make some sweeping portrayal of a generation; it keeps it simple, stays focused, and I find the results much more fun and rewarding than the ambivalent plot twists and ugly couplings in its more famous predecessor. In its restrained way, however, Indian Summer is an intelligent film that makes its points effectively. If that sounds like your kind of movie, get this one for sure!
NOTE: For Raimi fans, be sure to stick around for the credits, which feature Stick the entire time doing something rather creepy...I'll let you see it.
Worth renting? For most people.
Worth buying? Yes; if you can find it, it will be cheap.
Suitable for kids over 13? I think so.
Director: Mike Binder
Running Time: 97 minutes
Click here for complete details at IMDB.com.
Review Copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin
Originally written August 24, 2001.
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