I have a soft spot in my heart for reunion flicks. This isn’t recent, by the way. Even as far back as my early twenties, when Grosse Pointe Blank and Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion came out, I loved any chance to watch a solid cast get together and pretend like they’d known one another decades before and were now confronting the time that has passed and how much they have changed.
Indian Summer was released in 1993 and while I never saw it until a couple of nights ago, I have to admit that even when I was seeing it advertised on television back in the day, I was interested in what it was about. I may have even expressed interest in seeing it in the theater or on video back then but passed it up for the umpteenth viewing of One Crazy Summer. And funny enough, Netflix not only doesn’t even have it for streaming, they don’t have it in their DVD catalog. I was just fortunate enough to catch it via HBO Go and streamed it on my Kindle.
The premise of the film is that eight friends who had their best summers at Camp Tamakwa, a summer camp in Ontario meet up at that camp once again in their early thirties, having been invited there for a reunion by the camp’s director “Unca Lou.” This, of course, leads to an exploration of unresolved feelings for one another and in the case of Lou, a bittersweet farewell to the camp, as business has declined sharply in recent years and he is going to close up shop.
While nobody is technically dead, the plot and characters are extremely reminiscient to the seminal reunion film from ten years earlier, The Big Chill, and even those who are even casually familiar with Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 film will easily make that comparison. In fact, I am sure that I can even go through the characters from both film (and there are eight in both … I checked) and make a comparison, but I am pretty sure that comparison has been made to the point of exhaustion (and I can imagine that “The Big Chill” but it’s a summer camp was the elevator pitch). So let’s look at the film itself.
The film’s got some very solid stars in its ensemble, with Elizabeth Perkins as Jennifer, who is lamenting her current single status; Diane Lane as Beth, who is still recovering from the death of her husband (though it’s been a while); Bill Paxton as Jack, the camp’s troublemaker who was once kicked out of camp; Kevin Pollack and Vincent Spano as brothers Brad and Matt, who own a successful clothing company (that’s based on the Canadian clothing company Roots); Matt Craven as Jamie, who has brought with him his 21-year-old fiancee, Gwen, who is played by Kimberly Williams; Julie Warner as Kelly, who is Matt’s wife and who is frustrated by their fizzling marriage and what seems to be his trying to rekindle a camp days romance with Jennifer; and Alan Arkin as “Unca Lou”.
We get a lot of attempts at recapturing that Big Chill magic throughout the movie and I will say that the cast does have chemistry, although there are a number of times where things do seem a little forced, especially in the film’s first act where the director Mike Binder has to establish not only the friendship between these people but how the camp was important to their lives. It’s shown through flashbacks to twenty years earlier and gags wherein Lou has them actually take part in camp activities as well as repeated gags of playing pranks on one another. And quite a bit of that first act is a little tough to get through, although the actors are charming enough for you to want to keep watching and once they settle into their old conflicts and the script pulls back a little, they get their chance to show off that natural chemistry.
Out of all the performances, my favorites are those of Elizabeth Perkins and Diane Lane, who carry quite a bit of the film. Perkins is incredibly charming and smart as Jennifer and Lane is able to be the film’s heart, playing a woman who’s at the end of her grieving and is ironically moving on my looking backward (and I will play the “guy watching a movie” card by saying that she is very beautiful). The rest of the actors are also solid, even if Kevin Pollack gives us what would have been his performance as George Costanza and Bill Paxton plays a typical Bill Paxton character (and comic nerds take note–he’s reading some Spider-Man and X-Men at one point and at another point, Matt paints a huge Marvel-based mural). Arkin’s also good, although I want to know whoever decided that “Peter Bogdanovich Cosplay” was not going to be completely distracting for his look in the film. I will also point out that Sam Raimi (yes, that Sam Raimi–he was a friend of the director) plays the doofy maintenance guy named Stick in a performance that actually made me laugh out loud at some points.
I can’t really talk too much about the plot because while there is one, you find yourself not caring about it as much as you care about seeing the interactions between the characters, which is what makes for a good ensemble film. The movie is also shot beautifully–it was shot on location at the actual Camp Tamakwa in Ontario (incidentally, this is the camp shirt that Jason Biggs wears through parts of American Pie)–so it works best where it lets the scenery and the performances do the work. That doesn’t always happen and I think that it could have benefited from snappier dialogue in places and more time for us to see the relationships between the characters rather than having them told to us.
I hope you can tell while I think the movie’s definitely flawed, I wanted to spend more time with the characters and would have loved to have seen them in other contexts. Still, the time I got to spend watching Indian Summer proved pretty worth it.
Buy, Rent, or Skip?