It’s my favorite time of the year–South by Southwest is here! I love music, but I’m actually a bit partial to the film portion of this ever-growing festival. There’s something decadent about enjoying quiet moments from a comfy theater seat in the middle of the madness…
For some reason, I’ve had a series of major epiphanies at SXSW. I fell in love with my husband during this festival, and I’ve gotten some true clarity about career paths, creative projects and much more. There’s a magic that happens each March in Austin. And Sunday night I kicked off my SXSW fun with a screening of Ping Pong Summer, a film that captures the innocence and awkwardness of youth. Did I mention that the movie is set in 1985, and that it manages to be authentic rather than stereotypical?
At the Q&A following the screening, director Michael Tully noted that his film is “not about fetishizing the ’80s.” Rather, it’s the result of combining his own well-adjusted upbringing with the movies he watched in his youth, such as The Karate Kid. In fact, Ping Pong Summer features several Karate Kid-like elements, from its underdog hero (named Rad Miracle) who must defeat a bully through athletic skill, to a female version of Mr. Miyagi played by Susan Sarandon. She coaches young Rad, offering the kind of guidance that can only be conveyed by an actress who also happens to be a true ping pong aficionado.
[photo credit: Adam Elmquist]
But perhaps what I enjoyed most about Ping Pong Summer was the attention to detail. For starters, the film is set in Ocean City, Maryland, where many of the buildings and signage still have an ’80s feel. I love a seaside town with 1980s flair, don’t you?! Above we see fashion stop Sea Quest in Ocean City. Another destination that gets screen time: Paul Revere Smorgasbord, where the characters enjoy plates heaping with food (and viewers are treated to a lengthy shot of the lengthy buffet)! For more details on the look of Ping Pong Summer, check out this Filmmaker interview with production designer Bart Mangrum.
If you grew up in the ’80s, you’ll be blown away by this film–it captures the essence of the time period while celebrating the innocence of youth. In fact, Michael Tully was set on letting the actors respond to the script as they may, rather than introducing them to key 1980s movies before filming. He cast locals, and he let them act like kids without trying to steer their behavior into “this is what a kid in the ’80s would have done” territory. A scene at an underage dance club involves universal ups and downs like crushes and heartbreak, as well as dancing, a bubble machine, and New Edition’s Popcorn Love (see the video for this 1984 hit below).
And if you simply just love the 1980s, you’ll thoroughly enjoy key decade highlights, from Rad’s Nike windbreaker to love interest Stacy’s deco earrings and flawless pastel make-up. And that retro microwave. And that hand-held game with the water and the rings. And those Icee straws with the little spoons on the end. And Lea Thompson, who play’s Rad’s mother! We could go on, but instead we encourage you to see Ping Pong Summer for yourself…
The film will be released in theaters and on demand June 6th. Mark your calendars!