Editor’s Note: Summer Night released on August 2, 2015 on YouTube.
Following in the grand tradition of Clerks (even that proposition is something of a quandary), Summer Night is a short film made for roughly $12, the makers of which compensate a lack of any real skill with an abundant adoration for cinema. For film fanatics like myself, it’s easy to enjoy on a purely experimental level. It’s in terms of actual aesthetic and technical quality where the film’s merits become far more ambiguous. Summer Night is one charming, deeply felt mess of a movie. It’s something of an enigma. How can something so objectively imperfect be this delightful? Maybe I can help with that…
Summer Night is a short film made for roughly $12, the makers of which compensate a lack of any real skill with an abundant adoration for cinema.
Kent Juliff directed and stars in this largely improvised comedy drama of friendship, love and small town life. Juliff and producer Shannon Cloud run a no-budget independent film company in Austin, Texas whilst studying film at the University of Austin. Summer Night is born from collaboration among their close friends, who all take roles both on-screen and off. Juliff describes it as an ode to “friendship, technology, basketball, and hip-hop.” That lyricism is present throughout the movie’s breezy 36-minute runtime. Juliff leads the cast of stand-ups, improvers and fellow filmmakers who, somewhat ominously, share their characters’ names.
Kent is a local comedian on a night out with his best friends JD and Caleb, along with straggler Nick. The film follows them as they share jibes, play arcade games, discuss their bro-mantic relationships before, just maybe, finding love. Noting the lack of structure is both an understatement and ignorant to the extreme (so ignorant, in fact, one can faintly hear the South Park version of Michael Jackson decrying said ignorance for miles). It’s not a film about cataclysmic events or simmering resentment; the closest Juliff comes to introducing a sense of conflict is the mild concern caused by JD’s phone being on silent. He instead focuses on free-flowing, occasionally mundane dialogues between the main quartet. The scenes’ improvised nature create a naturalistic, faux-documentary atmosphere to the events (when, or if, they do occur).
Luckily, Juliff and his beguiling cast manage to bypass Summer Night’s subpar construction on charm alone.
The defining feature of Summer Night, as in its equally penniless contemporaries, is a pervading sense of imperfection. For every amusing exchange and oddball diversion are a handful of out-of-focus shots, illegible sound mixing and migraine-inducing camera work. That being said, $12 can hardly cover a tripod! *Stops typing to fetch some Xanax from the bathroom.* Yeah, no; a lack of funds is not an excuse for laughable camerawork. The budget-imposed amateurism on display could well have grated to the level of unwatchability at feature-length. Luckily, Juliff and his beguiling cast manage to bypass Summer Night’s subpar construction on charm alone.
Summer Night is not a great film, or even a particularly good one for that matter. What it lacks in clever storytelling or a compelling narrative is recuperated in sharp writing and a melancholic view of friendship. Over the course of a quotidian evening, you come to appreciate that this kinship may be all Kent and JD have. Still, what a thing it is. See it for one of the most bizarre drug trips in recent memory, if for nothing else.
While the no-budget short Summer Night lacks clever storytelling or a compelling narrative, its flaws are made up for by sharp writing and a melancholic view of friendship.