“Summer Night,” the feature directorial debut of the actor Joseph Cross, is a modestly successful example of playing the hits. The film is transparently derivative, but it has enough visual panache and a feel for the rhythms of a laid-back summer evening that it’s tough to dislike.
Set over roughly 24 hours, the movie begins during a summer day in a small town. Many of the characters, most of whom are in their 20s, are looking for a way out, or at least a transfer to a Richard Linklater set. They include an actual Linklater alumnus, Ellar Coltrane from “Boyhood,” as a schoolteacher ambivalent about his career.
Elsewhere, it’s a day of Life Events: Seth (Ian Nelson) has gotten his girlfriend, Mel (Analeigh Tipton), pregnant, and is ducking a discussion. Rabbit (Bill Milner) is despondent that Lexi (Lana Condor), whom he’d kinda sorta been moving toward a relationship, slept with another guy. And Taylor (Callan McAuliffe), who is in a band described as the best thing that would have ever come out of the town had it left, has a preposterous meet-cute with Dana (Ella Hunt). (He’s assaulted on a bike trail. She is reading by a riverbank and helps with first aid.)
The threads come together that evening at a downtown bar and performance space, where good songs and the amiable cast help Cross sell the easygoing vibe. Could so many formative experiences happen in one night? Does “Summer Night” exist untethered from the world beyond the town’s borders? The answers are obvious, but the key is to enjoy the movie while it lasts.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes.
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