Thursday, January 26, 2012

Friday Film Pick: Mike Binder - “Indian Summer” (1993)

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There are certain places, certain patches of land that can encapsulate your entire childhood experience into their modest acreage. Today's film pick is about one such place. But before we get into it, allow me to wax poetic about my days growing up in Saratoga Springs, NY.

On West Avenue, next to Shirley's Ice Cream, was a video rental store called Mister Movie. Every Friday evening my family would go and pick out a few VHS tapes to watch over the weekend. My sister would get some feel-good Disney film about some blind girl who jumps horses for an old-timey carnival, I would get whatever 80's sci-fi schlock I'd already seen 634 times, and my parents would get the latest action or drama that was out that week. Mister Movie catered to all of our tastes and as the years wore on, I found myself appreciating everyone else's cinematic choices as well. These days I am more than willing to admit that perhaps my sister was right, Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken is arguably a better film than Spaced Invaders.

My first rated R movie was the Kurt Russell/ Sly Stallone buddy cop movie, Tango & Cash. A bit later it was the Eddie Murphy/ Nick Nolte buddy cop movie Another 48 Hours. I think my pops was really into the genre. Technically I wasn't “allowed” to watch Rated R movies, my parents weren't that liberal with their censorship standards. But I had this trick where when they were ready to pop in their movie I would pretend I couldn't sleep. After a few minutes of bargaining they'd allow me to lay on the small couch in the living room while the movie began, assuming I'd fall asleep out of boredom or lack of connection with such “grown up” films. With a pillow over my head, so that they couldn't tell my eyes were still open, I'd watch every second of those flicks. One weekend my mom must have picked the movie, because instead of the traditional mis-matched police partner story there was a funny little film about a bunch of thirty-somethings reuniting at their old summer camp. This movie was Mike Binder's Indian Summer.

Written and directed by Binder in 1993, the film is an ensemble comedy featuring some of the best acting talents of the 80's and 90's; Diane Lane, Bill Paxton, Julie Warner, Kevin Pollack, Elizabeth Perkins, Kimberly Williams, even a small part for Sam Raimi, and presiding over all of these amazing characters was Alan Arkin, as the soon to be retired camp counselor. It's basically The Big Chill Goes To Camp. The old friends gather to relive their glory days and escape from the dismal urban, capitalist lives they have become entangled in. Some are unhappily married, some are widowed, some are still single, but all of them have a story, all of them have an arc.

Mike Binder has developed a reputation as crafting taught, snappy character pieces that give actors a chance to work outside their comfort zones. Joan Allen's comedic chops shone through in his film The Upside Of Anger. Adam Sandler's most dramatic role was in Binder's post 9/11 drama Reign Over Me. He was just getting started with Indian Summer though, and his freshness as a writer and the vibrancy of the young cast brings an energy and spirit to the film that is sometimes lacking in his later work.

I can't explain to you why as a 9 year old kid (who hadn't yet been to summer camp, I didn't attend Skye Farm until I was 12) I loved this movie so much. Perhaps it was the serene earth tone cinematography, or the nuanced character interaction, or the soulful soundtrack all working together to paint a picture of grown-up life that was wistful and nostalgic. It seemed to tell me, “Enjoy these years of play while you can because shit gets really real.” It's a message I took to heart. Despite the fact that Indian Summer is an all but forgotten movie today (it might turn up some Sunday afternoon on HBO 3 or something but good luck trying to find it in any stores), this should not be taken as a reflection of its quality. It's a simple film about friends and nature and how much it sucks to grow up. It's truly one of my favorite films of all time and has been a tremendous influence upon my own screenwriting. Do yourself a favor and convince your parents to let you “sleep” on the couch so you can check it out.

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