Ping Pong Summer
Continuing the 2014 SXSW obsession with teenage coming of age stories, Ping Pong Summer is the least impressive in the crowded field (see Hellion, Boyhood, and Wilderness of James for better examples). Sure, they have Susan Sarandon in the film for maybe ten minutes total, but her presence is so underserved here. It also occurs to me that Ping Pong Summer is coming to the party quite late after the very similar and inferior The Way Way Back, which captures everything this film is trying to say but succeeds better in every aspect, especially performances.
On family vacation, awkward 13-year-old Rad (Conte) gets tired of the sand and beach and has no interest in spending time with his very frugal family. He meets another vacationer, Teddy (Myles Massey), and they spend most of their time at the local arcade playing ping pong. The local town bully, who is older, has a car and loves to intimidate the tourists, takes a particular interest in Rad since they both share a table tennis talent. A duo match is set to prove once and for all who is the top dog and the entire beach community starts buzzing about it. Rad is forced to enlist the help of their beach rental neighbor Randi Jammer (Sarandon), who is a former trophy winning ping pong champion with a rough attitude.
Marcello Conte, Helena May Seabrook, John Hannah, Lea Thompson, Joseph McCaughtry, Susan Sarandon
Writer/director Michael Tully is more interested in the 80’s era in which the film is set than the acting or the story itself. From the out of style pants, in style shoes, and funky dance moves, every second the film is rolling we are blatantly reminded of the era we are in. The script focuses entirely too much energy and time on lame jokes that might have appeared funny to those writing it but will leave only crickets chirping for mainstream audiences.
Another writing problem was giving so much time to teenage actor Conte and so little to Oscar winner Sarandon. The Way Way Back spent most of its short running time developing the extensive supporting cast in clever scenes. Ping Pong Summer focuses on uninteresting characters that are not important to the predictable plot. What is meant to be ironic and satirical gets only a few honest laughs while remaining a film that couldn’t end soon enough.
Do yourself a favor and steer clear of this coming of age vacation.