Sundance 2014: 'Ping Pong Summer' - Hilarious 80's Humor Done Right
by Alex Billington
January 24, 2014
Time to take a hilarious trip back to the 80's. Imagine time traveling back to Sundance 1985 and catching the premiere of a coming of age film set around ping pong in Ocean City, Maryland. That's what Ping Pong Summer is like, and they nail the cliches, cheesiness and stereotypes of the 80's, but in the right way. The kind of way that it makes you laugh and smile and feel nostalgic yet also feel kind of happy that we don't live in this time anymore. The story is simple but sweet, and heartfelt but entertaining, the perfect throwback to a time past without iPhones or the internet, but with pixie sticks, foam parties and yes, of course, ping pong.
Director Michael Tully (Septien) returns to Sundance with this 80's comedy, focusing on a coming-of-age story about a teen who travels with his family to beach town Ocean City, Maryland and gets into the most epic ping pong tournament of his life. His name is Rad(ford) Miracle, which is pretty much the greatest character name I've ever come across, and newcomer Marcello Conte plays Rad with a nuanced spunk and shyness that works wonders over the course of the film. His friend, played by Jheri-curled Myles Massey as Teddy Fryy, is an amusing sidekick even though some of their dialogue is occasionally stilted. The two go head-to-head against another duo of rich bullies who eventually challenge them to a table tennis showdown.
Watching Ping Pong Summer is literally like time traveling back to 1985 and watching the premiere of a then-contemporary coming-of-age film. It gets everything right about the 80's and stuffs every cliche, every reference, every stereotype: from pop rocks and pixie sticks to parachute pants to buffets and arcades and game centers to ping pong to Icees to the DeLorean to cassette tapes, early hip hop, and break dancing. But it works because he balances the cheesiness with the humor, and takes us on a journey back to the 80's that is enjoyable in all the right ways. Tully doesn't try too hard, instead he just revels in the goofiness of it all.
While it might turn off some viewers by how much this feels like it was literally made in the 80's, I found Ping Pong Summer to be entertaining and humorous and, just, radical. It's a funny film with a good heart at its core, a simple coming-of-age story that relies on nostalgia to drive its story. There are a few scenes that feel awkward, and some jokes that fall flat, but the rest of it is a wistful success. So much so that I found myself easily looking past its minor problems and being delighted by how unique it is and how much it made me smile and laugh. This is a fun film that anyone who grew up in or lived through the 80's will most likely enjoy, for many reasons. They may even discover a timeless message about growing up hidden deep within.
Alex's Sundance 2014 Rating: 8(0's!) out of 10
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