The making of films always intrigues me by its complexity. Many thousands of decisions have to be made and so many obstacles have to be overcome that I’m amazed so many films get finished at all. The makers of A Plumm Summer take quite a few missteps. But, when the credits started rolling, I was overcome by a feeling of satisfaction. What it got right, it got very right. And, to have a wonderful time, that’s all it takes.
A Plumm Summer tells the story of the Plumms. Mom and Dad, Mick and Roxie, played by television actress Lisa Guerrero and William Baldwin, fight a lot. Teenage son Elliott, played by Chris Kelly is a shy boy going through growing pains. And young Rocky, played by Owen Pierce, is a little tyke obsessed with a television puppet (oops, I mean marionette) named Froggy Doo. Pulling Froggy’s strings is Happy Herb, played by Henry Winkler.
The kidnapping (marionette-napping?) of Froggy Doo during a live show sets the story – essentially Hardy Boys meets Nancy Drew trying to evoke Twin Peaks – in motion. I said “trying to evoke Twin Peaks,” but what I really meant to say was: “I have no idea what tone A Plumm Summer is going for.” And this tonal inconsistency and confusion is its most damaging misstep. When Froggy Doo is stolen, the tone shifts to a seriousness and darkness worthy of Mystic River. Then the FBI shows up as a bumbling pair of goofballs and all the air is released from the balloon, so to speak. Actually, the tone flits about so often it is impossible to know how to feel about anything.
A Plumm Summer takes place in the past and is narrated in the present by Elliott as an adult (voiced by Jeff Daniels) in a manner meant, it seems, to resemble To Kill a Mockingbird. But this is derailed by the film’s low budget. I’m not sure during what year the story takes place. It all seems like 2007 with a bunch of thrift store props scattered about. It is a truly unconvincing attempt at a period piece. This is too bad because it would have worked just the same if actually set in 2007.
The story suffers as well from being overly predictable. When we meet the hero, he is afraid to jump from a platform into a swimming pool and is then harassed by a bully. I said to myself, “I bet that bully is going down later with one punch and I bet Elliott will overcome his fear by jumping from an even greater height into something more treacherous that a swimming pool.” I love to see my predictions fail to come true. No such luck here.
And little Owen Pierce playing Rocky is unbearably annoying. I won’t beat up the little kid. I’m sure he is a happy, loving little guy. But he makes the little boys from The Phantom Menace and Jerry Maguire seem like little darlings I’d love to adopt by comparison. I suppose Owen will never have to worry about being a struggling former child star though – and that’s a good thing.
And now for those fine and assured steps I mentioned. Money was well spent in this low budget production on William Baldwin. He is a thorough professional and dives into the role of a rebellious dad with many regrets with aplomb and abandon and the camera just loves to follow him on a motorcycle like a rebel without a cause. (Actually, the camera loves just about everything in the film. There are countless shots of the Montana countryside that look so beautiful I thought they must be computer-generated fakery.) I won’t say his character offers many surprises, but we can’t help but adore watching his bad boy. He looks just too darn good as he broods, hair straggling down in front of his eyes.
And back to Chris Kelly’s Elliott. He is smitten by Haley, the new girl in town played wonderfully by Morgan Flynn. They become friends and co-sleuths – his boy Hardy to her Nancy Drew – and they set out to solve the crime of the century – the disappearance of Froggy Doo. Okay, forget about the silly plot. Chris Kelly and Morgan Flynn are magically convincing together. They create a sense of teenage crush racing hazardously past teenage lust en route to teenage love with a conviction I always wished to see in the Harry Potter movies between Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson and never quite got.
I’d love to see Kelly and Flynn share the screen again. Only, next time, keep Froggy Doo locked in his box.