Today was my second day at the Melbourne International Film Festival and there wasn't much fanfare this time. No mingling of any kind... it was simply a case of showing up, cuing in line and watching. The film was PING PONG SUMMER and it was my second most anticipated movie of the festival.
Ok yep. Good movie! Set in 1985 the story follows a 13 year old boy as he spends his summer with his family at Holiday City in Maryland. With little else to do he becomes friends with another kid and together they fall victim to the town's two bullies. As with all movies of this type the formula demands that they get even and that justice is served (literally). With a mutual interest in ping-pong our underdog agrees to a table-tennis showdown at a local arcade and he seeks guidance from the town's local "weirdo" (Susan Sarandon) who just so happens to be a former ping-pong champion.
By now you would be right in thinking that it sounds totally cheesy. Ah huh, this film has lovingly stacked the cheese on high and doesn't apologise for it. Director Michael Tully has directed this film with an abundance of love and nostalgia. You can't help but feel that his own childhood is put on the screen for all of us to see... and for many of us, our own childhoods are also reflected. With massive boom boxes, cassette tapes and break-dancing the film is unashamedly 80's and almost every scene has something wistful and sentimental for us to smile & laugh about. The cast is great and it was particularly wonderful to see Lea Thompson as the daggy mother. It's perfect casting and filmies might have cast their minds back to her own 80s films like THE WILD LIFE or ALL THE RIGHT MOVES...
The best way to describe the tone of the film would be to combine THE WAY WAY BACK with NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. With the heartfelt coming of age drama of THE WAY WAY BACK and the odd quirkiness of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE this new comedy has achieve precisely what it set out to.... it wants you to laugh at the fashion. It wants you to laugh at the technology and it definitely wants you to laugh at the language. The opening scene had my attention from the get go but with a an already pounding headache set-in it took me longer than most to click with the story. Add to that the fact that an older guy sitting next to me was laughing HYSTERICALLY as every damn frame (even the dramatic stuff). I guess he reeeally related to it. Ha.
The only negatives I can draw from PING PONG SUMMER is that it relied too heavily on close up shots and that it would have benefited from more well known songs of the time. I guess for a low budget independent film the music licensing would be problematic... as for the close up photography, well I figured it was a simple way to conceal the modern surroundings. That made sense for the exterior shots but didn't make a lot of sense for the interiors... i suppose director Michael Tully probably had specific films in mind that he was trying to emulate. But regardless of these nit-picky qualms PING PONG SUMMER won me over and I suspect that it will be a real grower and I can't wait to watch it again.