DVD Review: “A Plumm Summer”

A Plumm Summer (2009, Paramount)
purchase from Amazon: DVD

Once a week our family tries to hold movie night, generally Saturdays. Popcorn is made and the kids get in their pajamas before we gather on the couch to watch come family friendly film from our library of DVD’s. On occasion we’ll rent something from the video store, but more often than not it’s difficult to find quality entertainment for all four of us to enjoy together. When A Plumm Summer arrived, I was hesitant to watch it with the family for fear it would make for a mediocre movie night. Still, as a filmmaker whose own movie went straight to DVD and who has struggled to get people to watch it, I decided to give the film a chance and get an honest reaction from my children and wife. I’m glad I did for my family and I both feel that A Plumm Summer is a wonderful movie and deserves to find a wide audience. Sweet without being sacchariny, serious without being too mature for children, A Plumm Summer is a true find and I highly recommend you checking it out with your family.

First time director, Caroline Zelder (who also co-wrote the screenplay with T.J. Lynch and Frank Antonelli), works with a gifted cast of actors in this story about first love, loyalty, loss of innocence and family. Chris Massoglia stars as Elliott Plumm, a thirteen boy growing up in rural Montana in 1968. He lives with his mother and father, Roxie and Mick (Lisa Guerrero and William Baldwin) and his little brother, Rocky (Owen Pearce). Dad is an ex-boxing champ who hasn’t been able to find his way since giving up the ring for domestic life. He wastes his nights in the local bar spending what little money the family has. The boys hang out together wandering through their small town trying to find adventure. For Rocky, his life revolves around the local TV kiddie show, “Froggy Doo.” For Elliott, he finds solace behind a camera, taking skilled black and white photographs. At the beginning of the film, the boys’ lives change in two ways. First, Haley (Morgan Flynn), the daughter of the local deputy moves next door to the Plumms. She and Elliott have immediate puppy love for each other. The initial scenes between Massoglia and Flynn showing Elliott and Haley meeting are sweet and genuine. The stilted dialogue and long, awkward pauses will take you back to your own youth and the first girl or boy you had a crush on. Haley and Elliott are both lonely (Haley as the new girl whose mom passed away and Elliott as the local outcast whose old man is a has-been) and become fast friends.

The second event that changes everyone’s life is the frog-napping of Froggy Doo. Froggy Doo is a marionette on the local kiddie show which is hosted by Happy Herb (a very fun and gentile Henry Winkler). The longest running show in Montana history, Herb and Froggy are local legends. Herb, Froggy and Herb’s wife, Viv (wonderfully played by Brenda Strong) come to the kids’ small town for a promotional event and Froggy is stolen. Everyone is devastated, adults and kids alike. Desperate for attention from his dad, Elliott decides that he’s going to solve the mystery of who frog-napped Froggy with the assistance of Haley. As the film progresses, a couple of bumbling FBI agents are called in (played by Peter Scolari and Rick Overton- both very funny) and the blame of who swiped Froggy gets tossed around until the final minutes. In the process of trying to solve the crime, Elliott and his father have it out after Mick is arrested for disorderly conduct and he must come to terms with his life or risk losing his family.

A Plumm Summer has many things going for it, first and foremost, it isn’t afraid to get serious and handle tough subject matter. Mick and Roxie are facing hard times and the reality of his alcohol problem could rip the family apart. Moreover, Elliott feels his father’s resentment and desperately tries to win his approval until finally he can’t take anymore, blowing up at him. Yet this isn’t some dark indie film; although the subject matter is serious, it is handles in a sincere, even handed manner that doesn’t make it frightening for little ones. I wager to say that the opening of Finding Nemo is more traumatic than the heavy scenes in A Plumm Summer. The second thing the film has in its favor is the outstanding acting all around. Not only are the adult leads (including nice narration by Jeff Daniels as the adult Elliott) dedicated to the film instead of phoning it in, but the three leads, Massoglia, Flynn and Pearce do a great job. When their scenes could have been cutesy and cloying, instead the scenes all felt real and did not feel like they were “acting.” My kids, in particular, loved Rocky and found him to be hilarious. Pearce is very funny. Meanwhile, Massoglia and Flynn are two very talented young actors and appear to have a nice future ahead of them.

Technically, the film has beautiful cinematography (courtesy of Mark Vargo) and is paced wonderfully thanks to editor Jonathan Lucas. Tom Hiel’s original score works seamlessly with the period songs on the soundtrack.

What surprised me most about A Plumm Summer was the depth the story had. There were many layers to the screenplay, keeping us involved for all of its 101 minutes. Additionally, every character was interesting and had heart, even the so-called villain(s) are nicely drawn. When the adult Elliott states at the end of the film that he and Haley would someday marry, “but that’s a story for another time,” I genuinely wanted to hear about it because I had come to love these characters as much as I love the film. I am so thankful I discovered A Plumm Summer and I know that this movie will be seen many times on movie night for years to come.

The DVD comes with a gag reel, some deleted scenes, a behind the scenes music video, and commentary by Zelder and Antonelli.