"It was a time of my life I'll never forget, a soulful summer of acoustic rock, no parents, no school, and no parole..."
Thus begins the little Canadian film that could, Jacob Medjuck's 'Summerhood,' a poignant, breezy, fun, and deceptively astute look at summer camp. Collider.com calls it "the best film I've seen about childhood ever" -- high praise for a coming –of-age story that resonates with campers and non-campers, and reminds them of that special time that was "before life."
You know you're in for something as the film opens, and the camera pans across an idyllic lake lined with camp bunkies bathed in sunrise. Pete Seeger's singing 'Little Boxes,' a sweet sounding ditty. But then the camp loudspeakers blast everyone awake.
An uncredited John Cusack narrates the story of Fetus, a shrimpy "premature thinker" forced to bunk with newly-adolescent psychotic 14-year-olds -- and he's only nine. The bunkmates are best friends who hate each other, stuck together every summer in the same little boxes: Reckless, Grandpa, Fetus, Mud, Raincoat Kid, Toast, Fly Ball, New Kid, and the girls they love, Sundae and Cinnamon, across the mighty bridge.
Medjuck says his film is different from the usual kids' stuff. "It's like 'Oz,' not 'The Wizard of Oz,' but the prison series," he says. "'Shawshank Redemption' for kids. Imagine playing Spin-the-Bottle and it's 'Deer Hunter.' And wanting to steal third base, that's 'Blackhawk Down.'"
Each camper has a unique personality and story but the universal connection --unbound curiosity -- saturates 'Summerhood.' The boys are experiencing organic, insistent, and relatable sexual awakening and there aren't any parents around to ruin things. The counsellors don't judge because they know the bittersweet confusion that it is. They oversee adolescent yearning, as well as fair play in baseball and settling scores and getting to the dining hall on time.
Medjuck refused to diminish the boys' situation. "I got so tired of that pandering, neutered perspective of childhood," he says. "It's entertaining and I contributed to the machine in lots of movies, but it is not authentic. The 'Leave It to Beaver' world played its course. We live in a time when there needs to be authenticity. The internet is a bit too authentic, and we have to address these issues or kids will answer them themselves. The whole point was to do something right by these kids."
The film is based on Medjuck's own experiences. "For sure, there are situations and lines right out of people's mouths that came from my days at camp," he says. "I built entire scenes around a good line. I used some on my now-bride before she saw the movie. I whispered sweetly to her at the screening, 'I hope you're slutty.' Yes, I a) stole from the movie, and b) I did write the movie."
Medjuck also appears in the film as Careless, the perpetually high, distracted, work-allergic counsellor who finds his true vocation at camp, magically healing the sick (allergic) and sharing what he's learned with his lovelorn charges.
"I was trouble," Medjuck recalls. "I was in trouble constantly and I just woke up one day, and said, 'I'm not a victim.' I've had a broken heart, I've broken hearts, and I've made many mistakes. I wanted little boys to be a little better to little girls, and the only way to take the medicine is to wrap it in a filthy joke, a spoonful of filth. The movie is about the fact that it doesn't matter if you're 10 or 40 or 80. If you want to kiss the girl, you'd better ask her. My plan was always to do something right that made altruistic sense."
And that's not all. The seething power politics of the Monkey Bin bunkie pretty much foreshadow life after camp. It's tough, rewarding and vexing; there are mean adults/authority figures and great ones/friends/comrades. The film is well-scripted, directed, and acted. It speaks "up" to kids and shows them they way they are: Imperfect, loveable, and capable of great things. It's encouraging and optimistic; it relishes a world where a kid can be himself.
'Summerhood' won Best Feature at the San Diego Film Festival, Best Comedy at Maui, The Audience Award at the Santa Cruz and Atlantic Film Festivals, and raves from the critics like Ain't It Cool News, which compares Medjuck to a young Ben Stiller.
'Summerhood' begins a three-week run at AMC Yonge/Dundas in Toronto on November 5.