Hot Summer Nights ★★

Coming of age is a constant negotiation between who you are and who you’re not — it’s the most intense period of a process that will last for the rest of your life. Coming-of-age movies naturally tend to dramatize that negotiation, which is why so many of them hinge on hollowed out Harry Potter types who become the most boring characters in their own stories: It’s easier to paint on a portrait on a blank slate, easier to keep score of what someone is adding to (or subtracting from) themselves when you start from scratch. The only problem with that approach is that it strands a lot of very similar teenagers in films about how they’re not like everyone else.

It’s a trap that’s endemic to its genre, and one that “Hot Summer Nights” tries to avoid in fascinating and disastrous fashion: Here’s a coming-of-age movie that straight-up refuses to negotiate between what it is and what it’s not, Elijah Bynum’s debut embracing every last cliche it can find in a perverse attempt to forge its own identity. It’s a noble effort that comes up empty. Instead of something original, we’re left with a sweaty pastiche that shares its protagonist’s desire to be all things to all people, only to wind up losing any sense of itself along the way.

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