Film note: Ping Pong Summer

Originally published on Letterboxed.

I probably responded more positively than most to this teen period comedy’s commitment to its own artificiality, complete with anachronisms like a kid asking if two douche-baggy dudes were a couple. If that sort of casual and neutral curiosity was common among young teens in the 80s then I sure missed it, but then I was a 70s kid so what do I know.

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I also responded warmly to the film’s prominently featuring the balanced friendship of a white kid and a black kid, both a little weird. Race isn’t the focal point of their relationship, but also there’s no pretending that they’re both white and therefore there’s nothing to talk about and no friction, which is what most television shows still do, especially the most politically correct ones. — either/or. 

After he and his buddy Teddy have a falling-out after a borderline racist comment by Rad, by way of apology Rad says, “Your hair is fly!” gives him a bottle of Jheri-curl, and that’s enough. That may be the funniest and warmest moment in any movie all year.

However, once Susan Sarandon’s oddball savior enters the picture to teach Rad how to connect with the ping pong ball, the film loses its formal and stylistic playfulness and eccentricity (it was shot on 16mm!) and becomes just another story about a likable but weird geek beating the town bully. I guess they needed her to get the funding.

Still, I liked this more than The Spectacular Now, Little Miss Sunshine, and Napoleon Dynamite because it mostly avoided the twee (and glib) indie shorthand, the vapidness, and the elite class condescension, respectively, of those Sundance favorites.

The best shot in the movie though was the long dolly revealing that big-ass smorgasbord. All that fried food!

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