As we head into the dog days of summer, two new films – The Kings of Summer and The Way Way Back - celebrate how the season often plays a significant role in the movies. Here are a half dozen films that take place in summer – the sweet, the silly and the steamy.
Coming-of-age films, sweet and nostalgic, are ideally suited for summer, and Stand By Me (1986) is the most iconic of them all. Based on Stephen King’s short story The Body, Stand By Me takes place in small town in 1959 Oregon. Four best friends (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell) search for the body of a missing teenager. Adventureland (2009) looks at the life of James (Jesse Eisenberg), disgruntled and disappointed at having to work at an amusement park the summer after college graduation until he meets Emily (Kristen Stewart). Both movies alternate between comedy and drama as we watch the characters learn life lessons and mature before our eyes.
Summer is also a time for lighter fare, and a pair of Chevy Chase comedies from the 1980s have become cult classics. Caddyshack (1980) takes place at a snooty golf club, and culminates with a golf competition between the charismatic Chase, the obnoxious Rodney Dangerfield and the uptight Ted Knight. Oh, and don’t forget Bill Murray as the groundskeeper whose mission is to eliminate the gopher who’s been destroying the golf course. Vacation (1983) features Chase in the starring role as Clark Griswold, who takes his long-suffering wife (Beverly D’Angelo) and kids on a disastrous cross-country trip to Wallyworld, come hell or high water. Both films are crass and aren’t going to win any awards, but they’ve remained popular for thirty years and still generate laughs after repeated viewings.
If you’re looking for something heavier, look no further than these two films, where the heat of summer provides a different point of view. Do The Right Thing (1989) takes place on the hottest day of the year on a city block in Brooklyn, when the suppressed tension and hostility between the black and white residents (Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Rosie Perez, Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel L. Jackson, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee) explodes. While Do the Right Thing provides a snapshot of a specific place and time, Body Heat (1981) could very well have taken place in the 1940s. In a sweltering summer in Florida, Matty (Kathleen Turner, in her first role) seduces naive lawyer Ned (William Hurt) to murder her rich older husband Edmund (Richard Crenna). Steamy and sordid, this sexually charged movie is a modern interpretation of the film noir genre. Available on DVD and streaming through hoopla.