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Tribeca Review: 'Griffin In Summer' Is Brutally Funny Theater Kid Coming-Of-Age Brilliance

By Jason Adams | Film | June 11, 2024 |

By Jason Adams | Film | June 11, 2024 |


Coming off as a slightly less acidic Todd Solondz, writer-director Nicholas Colia has, with his first feature Griffin in Summer, turned his 2017 short film Alex and the Handyman into a coming-of-age comedy for the ages. Plenty twisted but also sweet as heck—even with its tween characters screaming about abortions and the many benefits of lower age-of-consent laws overseas—this movie should prove a brand new favorite for anybody who felt wildly out of place in Junior High. Clear a space on your shelf between Ghost World and Welcome to the Dollhouse, because Griffin is coming to claim some space in your yearning black heart. Prepare to feel seen, weirdos!

Because we’ve all been there. The sudden adolescent stirrings downstairs, like a switch was violently flipped to ON. And all of the humiliating fumblings that fall in its wake. For 14-year-old Griffin Nafly (Everett Blunck) that moment comes a’knocking when his beleaguered mother Helen (Melanie Lynskey, as precise a barometer of a project’s greatness as ever) hires Brad (Owen Teague) to do some work cleaning up their backyard over the summer.

The 25-year-old son of a neighbor, Brad has come angrily stomping home from a crapped-out career in New York City performance art. The hacks, as they say, didn’t get it—“it” being him screaming on-stage while pulling a baby doll out of his full diaper. Unsure what to do next and out of money, Brad suddenly finds himself untangling boxes of Christmas lights in a stranger’s garage in between stolen swigs of bourbon. And then there’s this kid staring at him.

That kid is Griffin. And Griffin is brought to riotous life by Blunck in a triumphant performance of tween awkwardness that should prepare to stand in the pantheon alongside Heather Matarazzo’s Dawn Weiner. This movie wouldn’t work—and this movie very, very, very much works—if not for Blunck, on whose wispy shoulders the entire thing rests.

And it’s clear from the film’s opening scene, where we watch Griffin perform in his school’s talent contest, that Blunck is the real deal. Playing both roles of unhappy husband and wife in his new play titled Regrets in Autumn—which he describes as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? meets American Beauty“—Griffin stands mid-stage basically screaming back and forth at himself, with hilariously devoted theater-kid abandon. It’s perfection. And a sign of plenty more perfection to come.

At first Griffin takes little note of Brad in the backyard—he’s working on his play after all, which he’s preparing to stage with the same four friends that he’s been semi-bullying into staging his plays in his basement for years. There’s his closest friend Kara (Abby Ryder Fortson, so perfect and moving in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret), who directs, and then his three actors—Winnie (Johanna Colón), Pam (Alivia Bellamy), and Tyler (Gordon Rocks), who all suffer under different degrees of theatrical indifference.

Only this summer it’s different. “Equity level!” Griffin shrieks! He wants to rent a space, build proper sets, and go all out. His friends seem to be going through their own individual coming-of-age stories off-screen though—and it’s a true credit to Colia how fleshed out each one of the other kids feels, even with their limited screen time—and so they have some issues with the 60-hours-per-week of rehearsal schedule that Griffin has emailed out. Kara, for one, has a new boyfriend, who’s invited her to Maine for a couple of weeks. And then there’s that raging house party with the single hard-seltzer…

Feeling abandoned by his friend-group—even as they all still contort themselves into knots to do the best they can with Griffin’s diva-esque demands—Griffin finds his eyes wandering from his keyboard out the window and down to the dreamy if dopey Brad by the pool. And then it happens, as sudden as such things do—needing an assist with shuffling some furniture about in the basement, we hear Griffin’s head suddenly fill with harps and angel choir as he catches a glimpse of Brad’s “hairless muscled torso” (Griffin’s words, not mine!). What’s happened becomes immediately clear—Griffin is smitten.

That crush only multiplies by leaps and bounds once Griffin learns of Brad’s performance artist past. And in New York no less! Why that’s where Griffin, surprising no one, plans on moving the second he turns eighteen! From there every word Brad drops, no matter how stupid and vainglorious, starts making its way into Regrets in Autumn—see how Griffin revels in finding out what “Bushwick” means! And that’s just the start of it. Brad, veiled in a haze of edibles and self-obsession, cluelessly feeds off the kid’s rapt attention. The two’s partnership begins tossing about tweens like their world’s set to tumble-dry. They make for a nightmare pairing. And it’s hilariously fun.

This is nearly as much Owen Teague’s film as it is Blunck’s, and Teague is an absolute riot. Deluded and far, far dumber than he thinks he is, you still understand every single second of Griffin’s crush on Brad. Of course he’s named Brad! Brad is every awful high school guy we all ever crushed on, only to now, with age and hindsight, blanch at the remembrance of. But still. We still get it. (And bonus—Kathyrn Newton pops up briefly, hilariously, as Brad’s obnoxious townie girlfriend. The way she says “Brad” will be burned into your brain y’all.)

As for Melanie Lynskey, besides landing every little punchline and exasperated look she’s given in the first two-thirds of the film, you might find yourself wishing she had more to do. But then in suddenly she swoops with that big beating beautiful heart again. It’s a feat she always delivers on like gangbusters, and sure enough, she sticks the landing here and then some. But the last act’s swivel to sincerity isn’t a sneak attack, we realize, because she’s been there peppering it around the movie the entire time. She’s always a magic trick.

Griffin in Summer is itself magic. Sweet and sour and salty all at once, its tumult of tones makes for the perfect match to the hormonal whirlwind we were all going through at Griffin’s age—it just thankfully knows well enough to be embarrassed by our behavior, and how to turn that red-faced reflection into high comic brilliance. I am telling you there is a shot of clothes hangers in a closet here that made me weep with laughter! I mean, I don’t want to give away all of the jokes, but just wait until you meet “Glenn Bening.” Just wait until you meet all of these folks. I can’t wait to re-watch Griffin in Summer every summer for the rest of my life.