Griffin in Summer [Tribeca Festival Review]

Griffin in Summer fits squarely into that category of indie comedies that offer big laughs with a side order of heart, like Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, and the Oscar-winning CODA. The film premiered in the US Narrative Competition section of the 2024 Tribeca Festival and seems primed for commercial success. A story that starts off cute and funny gradually reveals layers of depth. It’s an all-around winner.

Fourteen-year-old Griffin Nafly (Everett Blunck) is a theater-obsessed kid who plans to spend his summer vacation mounting his latest production in the basement of his family home. The play is a melodrama with themes related to alcoholism and marital infidelity. Imagine Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as staged by Rushmore’s Max Fischer and you’re on the right track. Best friend Kara (Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.’s Abby Ryder Fortson) will direct and three other friends will star.

Griffin’s work changes after mom Helen (Melanie Lynskey) hires surly, booze-swilling handyman Brad (Owen Teague) to do some yardwork. The occasionally shirtless Brad stirs the young Griffin’s loins while regaling him with stories of his time as a misunderstood performance artist in New York City. A bond forms between them, although it feels a lot tighter on Griffin’s end than it does on Brad’s.

A fair amount of Griffin in Summer’s humor comes from its single-minded lead character. He may be a small-town teen, but in his mind, he’s a theater professional. When Griffin receives a complaint from his pals about a 60-hour/week rehearsal schedule, he proclaims, “That’s the Equity standard!” Everett Blunck (The Old Way) gives a breakthrough performance, capturing this kid’s semi-obnoxiousness in a manner that’s endearing rather than off-putting. Laughs also come from the rigorous paces he puts his actors through in the name of art and his desperate attempts to gain Brad’s attention.

During the movie’s back half, an unusual dynamic occurs. Brad’s own artistic impulses are awakened, leading him to identify with Griffin. Writer/director Nicholas Colia doesn’t take us to the exact place we expect to go, i.e. the friendship healing both characters. Instead, he gives each of them a resolution that feels honest to their individual predicaments. Teague helps on that count by showing Brad’s vulnerable side without softening his edges. He’s the yang to Blunck’s yin. Together, they create one of the most affecting screen relationships of the past few years.

Griffin in Summer has fabulous supporting work from Melanie Lynskey, plus a showstopper of an extended cameo from Kathryn Newton, who is hilarious as Brad’s tacky girlfriend Chloe. The movie is additionally chock full of insight about adolescent crushes, youthful dreams, the power of putting your feelings into art, and the importance of being a kid while you still can. With his debut feature, Nicholas Colia announces himself as a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

Griffin in Summer

Griffin in Summer is unrated, but contains strong language and underage drinking. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan