Monday, November 29, 2010

Todd Hunter's "Summer Blink": A Review

By Lars Trodson

Tana Sirois
The factors that make truly independent cinema so thrilling are wholly on display in Todd Hunter’s recently released feature film, “Summer Blink.”

“Summer Blink” is thrilling because you’re able to watch new talent emerge, and to see how smart filmmakers ingeniously overcome the obstacles of a budget that doesn’t allow for extravagant locations or huge extra-filled scenes. Thrilling also because its a high-wire act during which the audience can sometimes see the artists wobble -- only to have them recover and walk triumphantly over to the other side.

Hunter, who wrote and directed “Summer Blink”, has created a mature work. He’s a theater director making his first venture into film, and he has assembled a great cast that he handles with astonishing dexterity. I say mature because Hunter not only shows a remarkable affinity for the unique demands of film, but also because his film treats issues such as sex and wanderlust without the fawning romanticism you see in most American movies. 

There are many moments in this film, big and small and sometimes seemingly inconsequential, that are exactly right. When they accumulate you feel, as you should in any film, that you’re watching something private. Rarely are films (of any kind) so well observed.
Todd Hunter directing "Summer Blink" at Cafe On The Corner in Dover, NH.

“Summer Blink” tells the story of Mina (played by Tana Sirois) and her moment of discontent. All her friends are graduating from high school - the exact city is never named - and everyone is headed off to college and making plans for the future. Mina, however, is directionless and penniless and she’s sour. She’s taking her frustrations out on her boyfriend Jake (Jeff Bernhardt), who is anything, thank goodness, but a cliche. He seems like a good person and a great boyfriend, and the dynamics between Jake and Mina are wonderfully played out.

Jake and Mina break off, and Mina finds herself drifting towards Alison (played by Ashley Love). Their budding relationship forms the heart of the film, and Hunter does a great job in filling in the arc of their story. Sirois and Love are superb together; they are beautifully unmannered performers.

Sirois is in every scene in the film -- the camera almost never strays from her, in fact - and she may be the real deal. She has old-school Hollywood beauty, and, in the truest tradition of screen acting, you can’t see her wheels turning. She doesn’t wait in a scene to speak her line; she’s listening to what others have to say, and she reacts to that. The way she reads a line reminds me of Myrna Loy, who could give sound and color to a grocery list. This is a fully realized performance by an actor one suspects will go very far. Let’s hope Hollywood gives her parts as well-written as this.

Ashley Love is also great. She never seems forced and there is an emotional honesty and intensity between her and Sirois. She’s got less to work with than Sirois -- Alison is enigmatic; her motivations are more obscure -- and that’s very tough to pull off, but she does an exquisite job.

Sirois and Ashley Love
Some quibbles: There are a few attenuated scenes that can be shortened. A couple of scenes establishing the mood of the lead character, Mina, could easily be shaved without disrupting the film’s rhythm or costing the audience any much-needed information about the characters. There are three very long scenes (the first lasts more than 10 minutes) between lead actors Sirois and Ashley Love that tend to go on even after the audience has learned enough about what is happening to the characters.

There is one sound issue that Hunter and his crew have tried to gamely overcome but needs to be addressed because it blunts our reaction to what should be the emotional climax of the film. It's an important moment late in the film, but two-thirds of the way into this terrific scene the dialogue is suddenly drowned out by music, even though Sirois and Love keep talking. If this was an aesthetic choice, it was a mistake, but I doubt it was. The sound may simply not have been recorded well enough to use (the perils of independent film). I feel Hunter left it in because it showcases a big moment for leading actress Sirois, and he tries to salvage it, but perhaps there is a way to get the two actors to loop the dialogue and complete the scene as shot.
But these are only distractions because the rest of the film is so good.

All the actors all display a pleasing naturalness -- even the minor characters that drift in and out. There are some catty girls at a party and at graduation that are nice flourishes that Hunter stages wonderfully. Dylan Schwartz-Wallach, as Mina’s brother Evan, has a brotherly goofiness that’s just exactly right. The lovely score is by Seiken Nakama.

You need to seek out “Summer Blink.” You’ll form your own ideas about what works and what doesn’t. Todd Hunter has made a fully realized, beautifully crafted feature film -- and if you think this is easy to do ask anyone who has ever tried it. It’s independent film in all of its independent glory, and a real accomplishment for Hunter, Sirois and team. We need more stuff like this.

“Summer Blink” is a Rolling Die Production. Produced by Jasmin Hunter. Cinematography by Kristian Bernier. Music by Seiken Nakama. Edited by Paul Buhl. 124 minutes. Cast: Mina - Tana Sirois; Alison - Ashley Love; Jake - Jeff Bernhardt; Evan - Dylan Schwartz-Wallach; Chris - Matthew Cost; Elise - Erin Adams; Wendy - Joi Smith.