BEST SUMMER EVER – Review by April Neale

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Best Summer Ever is an effervescent coming-of-age tale that defies the formula of rom coms and high school musicals.

It is both of those things and yet so much more, as it boasts a mixed cast of abled and disabled actors who all deliver memorable lines in between tight and bright musical moments.

Perhaps you have heard this before: “Kids are cruel…high school was a torture…I never felt like I fit in…” Maybe you lived it. Or you have a kid who might have been born with some challenge, and every day you sucked in your breath as you watched them get on a bus or enter a place where their day’s experiences might have been a mixed bag.

In a perfect world, we all would want to go to the high school featured in Best Summer Ever. Mount Abe High School, home of the fightin’ Eagles, where all sorts are together in class, in the hall, at lunch and in sports and more.

Race is a non issue. Gay kids can breathe and be themselves. Heavy kids can wear what they want and not get picked on. There’s no delineation from the “normal” kids and those born with disabilities. Rich kids don’t laud their privilege over less fortunate ones. And the cruelty of cliques, their cheap shots, hurtful words and ostracizing is by way of the Dodo bird.

Enter bright, beautiful Sage (Shannon DeVido) who defies the physics of life as a teenager. The twist? Sage is a powerhouse of wit, wisdom and hellacious singing chops rolling through the corridors in her wheelchair. That fact doesn’t slow her roll or prevent her from being part of the popular kid mix at the high school. Little does she know her summer dance camp crush, Tony (Rickey Alexander Wilson), goes to the same school.

Sage has no phone, no social media and winds up with the hottest guy in High School, football star Tony Michaels. Therein lies the drama, providing all the vexing ammo needed for our classic pretty “mean girl” Beth (MuMu, aka Madeline Rhodes) , the hottest girl in school who’s as charming as a root canal. Beth, as they say, is eating her kishkes out that Sage is so darned likable and popular and has the attention of her next intended love interest. Rhodes knocks it out of the park as this cheerleading villainess on a tear.

It’s no surprise that Tony and Sage are bonded by their frustrations of being trapped in a life path that they aren’t too keen on. Sage’s moms both drive her slightly crazy with their rolling stone approach to life, and Tony wants someone to hear what he wants instead of what they envision his path will be.

A bit of extra drama unfolds as Sage’s moms are doing something not quite kosher, no spoilers here… but let’s just say when they feel the heat, they pack their airstream and move on down the road. Poor Sage just wants to call a place home for once. And Sage’s love interest Tony? He’s got dreams that soar past the gridiron despite his coach’s pushing.

Best Summer Ever is directed by Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli, both of whom served as writers along with Terra Mackintosh, Andrew Pilkington and Will Halby. DP Chris Westlund captures the energy and the excitement of life in high school and the culminating event of homecoming.

The list of EP’s is long, highlighted by Randa, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ila Halby, Will Halby, George Loening, Kat Taylor and many more.

Their film boasts eight infectious—and damned funny at times—original songs belted out by a fully integrated cast and crew of people with and without disabilities who seamlessly get about their lives around the “cute meet” and ongoing burgeoning relationship between our two protagonists.

There are sweet cameos with actors Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard and Benjamin Bratt too. make no mistake, several new or lesser known actors featured in this film are total finds.

This is a sweet and familiar tale which is slyly humorous, modernized and idealized, and it has perfect timing to be presented in this world where kindness needs a huge comeback. Maybe this big homecoming and high school celebration where one feels marginalized, excluded or invisible might start something long overdue in these divisive times.

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April Neale

April Neale

April Neale is an entertainment writer and television critic. Neale has read her work both on NPR and 'Spoken Interludes', and has previously written for various industry trades and entertainment websites. Neale has written for Monsters and Critics since 2003, and is an editor and main contributor to the TV, Film and Culture (formerly Lifestyle) sections.