Review by Michael A. Smith
Studio: Believe Productions
Every now and then a young filmmaker will drop me a line and ask me to take a look at their film. Some have been well done ("Blood Descendants," "Game Box 1.0") while others have been down right terrible....sorry, I'm not naming names. I recently took a look at a film that not only brought back many fond memories of my years living in Baltimore but also took a familiar genre, the teen comedy, and made its own mark. That film is "The Graduates."
Ocean City, Maryland. As is the ritual every year, graduating high school seniors from all over the state flock to the beach and boardwalk of O.C. for senior week. Making the trip here are four friends: Ben (Bradford), Andy (Merriman), Mattie (Vergara) and Nickie (Pennacchio). They are accompanied by Ben's older brother, Josh, who has been making this trip for at least a decade. Think of him as Charm City's David Wooderson, the character played by Matthew McConnaughey in "Dazed and Confused." Ben is intent on spending time with Annie (Stephanie Lynn), the "hot" girl in school. Andy, who has been dating the same girl for more then 2 years, is hoping to take their relationship further, even though he's the one whose been hesitant to do so. Mattie is the logical one while Nickie has a penchant for acting tougher then he is and picking fights. "I'm from Baltimore," he proclaims. "You're from Columbia," (a very tony suburb) he's reminded. As they make their way from party to party, with the occasional round of miniature golf thrown in for good measure, our group discovers a lifetime of lessons in one short week.
As I noted earlier, the teen comedy is a pretty well covered genre'. From "Porkys" to "American Pie," from "Breaking Away" to the celebrated John Hughes trilogy ("16 Candles," "The Breakfast Club," "Weird Science") the ground is pretty familiar territory. So it's certainly hats off to writer/director Gielen for adding some new wrinkles. His dialogue is original and his characters deeply drawn. Even though we are just meeting them for the first time, the performances are strong enough to give the viewer a familiarity with the characters, most probably because we all know somebody they remind us of. The rest of the credit goes to the young actors, many of them making their professional debut here. When I was heard about this film, one of the highlighted features was that it featured the film debut of Zak Williams, son of Robin. Obviously you need to use whatever you have to get your film seen and Williams is fine as a friend of Josh', who scolds him for not growing up. But the rest of the cast deserve to be celebrated as well. Bradford is well cast as Ben, weary of Annie's sudden attention. And Pennacchio, who comes across as a manic combination of Matthew Lillard and Carrot Top, is the personification of every tough kid who's not really that tough.
"The Graduates" is currently making it's way across the country. It is also available on DVD or as a download by visiting the film's website, http://www.thegraduatesmovie.com/.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give "The Graduates"