Ping Pong Summer (2014) – Review

Directed by Michael Tully
Written by Michael Tully
Starring Marcello Conte, Emmi Shockley, Susan Sarandon, John Hannah

As a rule, we’re not awash lately with carefully considered, authentically envisioned depictions of the lives of young teenagers in the mid-1980’s on screen. Michael Tully’s partially biographical version of events here, concerning the summer of eighty-five for one young man on his family vacation, does its very best to be just that.
Concentrating on thirteen-year-old Rad Miracle (yes, really) the ping-pong obsessed kid caught somewhere between puberty and confidence, Tully’s project is an often delightful sojourn into your own history (if you’re of a certain age, like myself, who was also a young, uncomfortable, teenager at the time) that will not only have you gunning for the lead character in a way that only one can that recognises a little too much of themselves in him, but will drag you back to the days of beatboxing, boomboxes and criminally harsh fashion statements.
Tully’s film is so well realised, in fact, that it is easy to forget that this wasn’t actually made at the same time as the likes of The Breakfast Club and The Lost Boys, et al. The attention to eye-watering detail is second to none as Tully seemingly breathes an effortless eighties vibe into the quiet beach resort of Ocean Drive, Maryland. Though separated by the Atlantic, the common truths are unavoidable and if you too are in your forties, then you will end up as wistful as I was by the experience as a whole.
Teaming up with new best friend Teddy, Rad is introduced to the Fun Hub, a secluded oasis of pinball and video games surrounding what will become the main (although not sole) focus of Rad’s attention, a table tennis table in perfect condition.
Now no coming-of-age in any format would be the same without a nemesis and Tully has thought of that too, casting Joseph McCaughtry as the formidable and hateful Lyle Ace. Lyle is the town’s rich kid. He has the looks, the car and a terrible personality that smacks of being far too indulged up until this point. He also has the girl. The girl that Rad wants to kiss more than almost anything. Stacy Summers (Emmi Shockley).Lyle becomes Rad’s mental torturer for the summer until one day at the Fun Hub Rad finally snaps and challenges Lyle to a game of ping pong, in a ‘put up or shut up’ showdown. This requires a good deal of training for Rad who is not in the same league as Lyle in this (and many others) department.

Luckily for Rad, his next door neighbour on this holiday just happens to be an ex-table tennis champion, in the form of a grouchy Susan Sarandon. You might rightly ask what on earth Sarandon would be doing turning up here, but if we’re honest, her appearance is somewhat fleeting until a final act appearance where she comes to give some sagely advice.

Some good performances from the established actors in the cast make this a pleasure, but there are some questions surrounding the acting skills of some of the younger cast members, making it feel almost too uncomfortable to sit through on occasion. This does detract somewhat from the overall feeling of the film which looks perfect and is scripted with enough love for the period to rub off on any audience.

In all, a harmlessly fun film from Tully, which most definitely has its share of flaws, mostly in the acting department, but if you can overlook that and you’re the right age, you will take a great deal of pleasure from this.

 

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