Tribeca: ‘Griffin in Summer’ is a Way Too Classic Coming-of-Age Story

Tribeca: ‘Griffin in Summer’ is a Way Too Classic Coming-of-Age Story

@Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Winner of Best Movie and Best Screenplay in the U.S. Narrative Feature section at the Tribeca Film Festival, Griffin in Summer by the first-time director Nicholas Colia is a classic coming-of-age story. It’s way too classic. Set in the nice, clean, suburban small town that has no real name (let alone true social identity)  but we’ve seen in thousands of movies, this movie tells the story of a fourteen-year-old outcast who wants to become the new Arthur Miller. In order to put on stage his new, very pessimistic play about life and love, Griffin Nafly is willing to take no prisoners.

His friends are basically hostages forced to play his characters; his mom is too distracted by paying him real attention; his father is a completely absent figure, on the road for work basically all the time. What is in the boy’s life except writing plays that reflect in some way his miserable condition? But what was supposed to be another summer of rehearsals, re-writing, and solitude, turns into a voyage of self-discovery thanks to Brad, a troubled 25-year-old man back in town after having failed as a performance artist in New York City.

Griffin in Summer is a cinematic paradox because it is a movie with no real flaws which turns into something in the end quite boring most likely because of the absence of flaws. Everything is in the right place in Colia’s work: the screenplay is fluent and filled with funny characters; the directing is sharp and takes care of the different tones and nuances; the acting is specific and nuanced. Why then is the result so lame? Exactly because the entire movie is so polished and refined to become anonymous.

Colia doesn’t take any real risk telling his story and doesn’t dig into the desperation of the adults or the confusion of the teenagers, avoiding any kind of real conflict or turbulence. Even when Griffin in Summer is supposed to become more dramatic, the audience can’t feel the struggle and the pain of the protagonist, dealing with his parents’ horrible situation or his own sexuality. Any topic, any issue is treated with that kind of gentle touch that always stays on the surface, unable to scratch it and see what’s really behind it.

@Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

This is a coming-of-age movie which is no different from many, many like it we’ve seen in the past, especially in the Nineties. You can’t really write Griffin in Summer is a bad movie, not at all, but it is quite difficult to totally empathize with any of the characters mostly because you probably already did in some previous movies like this. Nicholas Colia proves himself a decent actor-director, allowing Everett Blunck to deliver a gritty performance in the main role. Next to him, the always reliable Melanie Lynskey and the new star Abby Ryder Fortson are believable, while Owen Teague can’t always save Brad’s character from stereotype, even if in some scenes he’s the funniest guy on the screen.  

The paradox that sometimes a film critic has to face is that a bad movie is easier to review than a decent one: a failure that tries to convey ideas is in fact way more interesting to analyze than a success that gives the audience exactly what they want to see without daring to give them something different. With Griffin in Summer, Nicholas Colia has delivered an uplifting bittersweet comedy enjoyable while you are watching it, but we would be truly surprised if the viewers would be able to remember it in a few weeks. Again, it is not a bad movie, it is just quite anonymous. 

Rate: C

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