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SXSW 2021 Review: ‘Best Summer Ever’ is guaranteed to put a smile on your face

If High School Musical and Grease had a very campy baby.

Rickey Wilson Jr. "Tony Michaels" and Shannon DeVido "Sage"' in Best Summer Ever
(Image: © Frank PR)

Our Verdict

Best Summer Ever brings together the best and worst aspects of campy musical comedies, but thanks to its upbeat nature and inclusive narrative, this movie is pure fun all the way through.

For

  • ☀️ Charming performances all around!
  • ☀️ Incredibly self aware, embracing the campiness of its genre
  • ☀️ Wonderfully inclusive, celebrating diversity both on and offscreen.

Against

  • ☀️ Brings with it the common flaws of its genre, sometimes rushing the story and characters forward before fully exploring their growth.

Best Summer Ever is part of our SXSW 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

Lovers of Disney Channel Original movies will rejoice over the coming-of-age musical comedy Best Summer Ever. Reminiscent of childhood classics like High School Musical and Camp Rock, the film also pulls from older movie musical darlings like Footloose and Grease to create a joyous celebration of these genres. Notably, the film also accomplishes what many DComs failed to ever consider — groundbreaking representation, both on and offscreen. Its diverse production includes a large number of actors and crew members with disabilities, who are all given the space to put their talent on display.

Despite the title, the movie begins at the end of summer, with a large-scale musical performance that details the wonderful experience shared by students at Lake View dance camp. The stars of the performance are Tony (Rickey Alexander Wilson) and Sage (Shannon DeVido), who grew especially close over their vacation and are sad to see their budding romance come to an end. Though we’ve known them for a matter of minutes when the time comes for their goodbyes, the connection between them is made obvious by Wilson and DeVido’s easy chemistry. You’re almost sad to see them split — except for the obvious fact that they will soon be reunited.

Sure enough, in true musical comedy fashion, a series of coincidences lands Sage at Tony’s school, as her family temporarily settles in the small town where he lives. This, we learn, is contrary to the story he told her about being from New York City. As she soon discovers, Tony is infact a star athlete with the pressures of his town’s 25 year losing streak on his shoulders. While he has some fondness for Football, having put years of his life into the sport, it clearly isn’t his passion (though he hasn’t worked up the courage to admit this to anyone else in his life). Sage only discovers this because her nomadic lifestyle with her mothers is interrupted when their mobile home is damaged, forcing them to settle in a small cabin… where they can peacefully farm their off-the-books marijuana. With everyone’s secrets finally revealed to us and all the pieces in place, the film is off to the races and the fun really begins.

All the way through, Best Summer Ever is cheesy and predictable but much of this made bearable by its self awareness. From the very first musical number, it’s exceedingly clear that the film knows the legacy of its genre very well, playing many of the tropes for even louder laughs. In this, the film captures the very best of campy musical comedies. 

Of course, with the very best of musical comedies come some of the common flaws. The tropes may be used to hilarious effect, but as self aware as the film is, it never takes the extra step of experimenting with them in any way that’s new or unexpected. Similarly, the film's campiness is a large part of its joy, but at times it gets a little lost in its indulgence. Dramatic moments get lost in the humor, and the occasionally awkward script rushes through some of our protagonists biggest realizations and turning points. With this, we lose some chances for the talented bunch of actors to show the emotional depths of their performance.

This is not to say that Best Summer Ever lets its actors down. Lead performers Ricky Alexander and Shannon DeVido prove their chemistry in every shared scene and duet, in addition to their amazing solo performances in song. These numbers are their opportunity to really delve into the emotional spaces of their characters and they use them to powerful effect. Even side characters like head cheerleader Beth (Madeleine Rhodes), a Regina George-esque HBIC gets her spotlight. All the best musicals have a villain song, and Best Summer Ever makes sure not to be the exception. Her number is pure fun and her comedic timing is the highlight of her every scene.

Best Summer Ever may be on the predictable side, and fully indulges in the camp and cheesiness of its genre, but why should that be points against it? This is a full on comfort movie, that I can imagine returning to just for its sense of humor, if not for its celebration of diversity. The story is sweet and heartwarming — the way it always is to watch a jock embrace his love of dance and a teenage girl break out of her shell and embrace her talents. It may be simple and familiar, but this narrative is a classic for good reason. Best Summer Ever is the latest in a long line of joyous musical comedies, making it well worth the watch.