Snack Shack

The biggest compliment I can pay Snack Shack is to say that it fundamentally feels right. Beautiful, evocative cinematography from Jean-Philippe Bernier perfectly captures the vibe of summer 1991, and writer/director Adam Carter Rehmeier recreates the distinct energy of being young, dumb, and horny during those warm-weather months. The movie starts off seeming like it will be a generic raunchy teen comedy, then gradually reveals deeper layers. It’s very funny but be prepared to have moments where you unexpectedly get choked up.

A.J. (Conor Sherry) and Moose (The Fabelmans’ Gabriel LaBelle) are perpetually scheming teenage best friends living in Nebraska. When their plan to manufacture and sell homemade beer falls apart, they make a bid to run the snack shack at the community swimming pool. One of their big promotions is to write the F-word in ketchup on top of hot dogs, then charge an additional 75 cents. Before long, they’re raking in the dough. The arrival of a beautiful new lifeguard named Brooke (Mika Abdalla) threatens to tear their friendship apart, as the guys immediately become competitive over her.

Snack Shack has a couple things going on simultaneously. At one level, it is a raunchy comedy. A.J. and Moose drink beer, smoke pot, curse like drunken sailors, and hatch all sorts of crazy little cons to get what they need for their business. Both are also under the spell of Shane (Nick Robinson), a slightly older guy who has just returned home from Kuwait and seems like the epitome of cool. The antics of the boys provide laughs, especially when things don’t go according to plan.

Underneath that raucous level is an astute coming-of-age story. A.J. has parents with high standards who he feels the need to prove himself to. He lets his best friend boss him around. His romantic/sexual feelings are awakened in a new way by Brooke. These factors change him, as do one or two other best-left-unspoiled developments that force him to grow up quickly. The film zooms in on that moment in life when you realize the innocence will fade and maturity will barge in, whether you like it or not.

Sherry and LaBelle accomplish something amazing here: they convince you that they’ve been lifelong best friends. The chemistry between them is so genuine that it’s easy to get swept up in it. Even more impressive is how they start off playing the characters as two peas in a pod, then subtly demonstrate ways in which they’re different from each other. Abdalla fits nicely between them, avoiding the teen temptress cliches to show us a young woman stuck in a small town for the summer and looking to combat boredom.

The movie could have used a small bit of trimming to help keep up the pace. It runs 112 minutes and would have felt perfect at about 95. That minor issue aside, Snack Shack is a hilarious, observant, and truthful little gem that I hope people will seek out.

out of four

Snack Shack is rated R for pervasive language, alcohol and drug use, some sexual material, and smoking - all involving teens. The running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan