‘Griffin in Summer’ Review: A Teenage Playwright Crushes Hard on the Handyman in This Low-Key Charmer (2024)

Griffin Naffly (an excellent Everett Blunck), the 14-year-old protagonist of Nicolas Colia’s surprising charmer Griffin in Summer, holds himself to the highest standards. The aspiring playwright chooses to tackle big themes in his dramas, one- to two-act showcases of marital rows and stalled dreams. An excerpt of his latest work, Regrets of Autumn, didn’t resonate at his school talent show, but Griffin doesn’t really care. He dreams of moving to New York (when he turns 18, of course) and staging his plays at the Roundabout Theatre on Broadway.

While Griffin’s classmates get drunk off hard seltzer and explore adolescent romance, the serious-minded teenager plots regional artistic domination. He partners with his best friend Kara (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret‘s Abby Ryder Fortson), an aspiring director, to put on his divorce drama about an alcoholic woman and her unfaithful husband. Imagine Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants if the subtext became text. The play, in Griffin’s words, reeks of the “irremovable stench” of his character’s faded dreams. He casts his friends in various roles and proposes a demanding rehearsal schedule. This summer is crucial for Griffin, although not quite in the way he thinks.

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Griffin in Summer

The Bottom LineA coming-of-ager with heart.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (U.S. Narrative Competition)
Cast: Everett Blunck, Melanie Lynskey, Owen Teague, Abby Ryder Fortson, Kathryn Newton
Director-screenwriter: Nicholas Colia
1 hour 30 minutes

Lurking on the periphery of the young playwright’s life is Brad (Owen Teague), a struggling performance artist hired by Griffin’s mom, Helen (Melanie Lynskey), to clean the pool and do random repairs around the house. Griffin in Summer observes how its protagonist succumbs to the unpredictable emotional turbulence of love. Colia’s film, which premiered at Tribeca, merges the energy of Theater Camp with the themes of Call Me By Your Name. The movie deals with familiar subject matter, but in sneakily appealing fashion. Credit goes toColia’s castfor creating that subtle magic; the committed performances are energizing to watch.

Griffin in Summer expands on matters Colia explored in his 2017 short Alex and the Handyman, which portrayed a nine-year-old boy’s budding infatuation with a 25-year-old handyman. Aging the protagonist here allows for messier feelings and more dramatic twists. From the film’s opening moments, when Griffin tests out his work-in-progress play to a confused auditorium of classmates, Blunck is an arresting presence. He balances Griffin’s intensity and know-it-all attitude with unexpected moments of typical adolescent insecurity. Not only does that make his character more endearing — it also prevents Griffin from falling into the trap of one-note precocity.

The teen meets Brad relatively early in the summer, while the latter is cleaning the pool and blasting music. Close-ups of Brad’s tattooed biceps signal Griffin’s sexual awakening. Suddenly, the boy armed with lacerating comebacks is rendered speechless.

With Brad in the picture, Griffin’s summer takes a turn. His emotional state becomes dependent on his interactions with his new crush. Conversations with Brad become inspiration for his play, which Griffin makes less depressing by adding romantic scenes. The pair’s brief chats also reveal the depths of Brad’s quarter-life crisis. While nursing a drink, he waxes on about life in Bushwick and maligns the artist scene that never understood him. Teague nails his portrayal of a kind of aloof rebel spirit for whom humility is a distant concept.

Griffin’s obsession with Brad clarifies troubles in the teen’s personal life, too, though Colia, who also wrote the screenplay, doesn’t develop this thread with the same attentiveness. Helen is a heartbroken alcoholic dealing with her husband’s potential infidelity. Griffin’s friends inevitably get sidelined for Brad. All those secondary roles would have benefited from more robust characterization, especially Kara, who suffers from Griffin’s controlling tendencies and eventual neglect.

What Griffin in Summer does quite well is take the artistic pursuits of its protagonist seriously. Griffin’s writing is a means through which the young man orders the chaos in his life. Indeed, he channels his capricious temperament onto the page, using the characters in his play to better understand his own heartbreak. It’s a comforting reminder of why any of us create in the first place.

Full credits

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (U.S. Narrative Competition)
Production companies: Honor Role
Cast: Everett Blunck, Melanie Lynskey, Owen Teague, Abby Ryder Fortson, Kathryn Newton
Director-screenwriter: Nicholas Colia
Producers: Juliet Berman, Bobby Hoppey, Camila Mendes, Rachel Matthews, Matthew Miller
Executive producer: Fred Bryant, Cullen Conly, Alex Tynion
Cinematographer: Felipe Vara de Rey
Production designer: Mariya Boykova
Costume designer:Aaron Crosby
Editors: Jon Higgins, Sam Levy
Composer: Nami Melumad
Casting director: Betsy Fippinger, Meredith Tucker
Sales: Range Media Partners, UTA
1 hour 30 minutes

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