Summer Movies, Had Me a Blast

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People equate all sorts of thing with summer: the shore, water ice, first romances, cheesy novels, fireworks, swimming pools and baseball, to name a few.

But don’t forget about movies.

During a recent Jewish Exponent staff meeting, the conversation morphed into a discussion about movies — specifically ones that reminded us of summer. We all came up with some pretty good selections (or so we thought) and present them for your consideration. No doubt there’s plenty of room for debate.


Liz Spikol, editor-in-chief
“Dirty Dancing” (1987)
No other summer movie so evocatively conjures a particular moment in Ashkenazi American life — when the Catskills and the Borscht Belt were king; when summer vacations were taken as a family, before the heyday of sending kids to overnight camp; when dating a non-Jewish blond-haired, blue-eyed boy felt like a fabulously illicit adventure.

Based on summers at the famed Jewish resort Kellerman’s, “Dirty Dancing” tells the story of a Jewish girl called Baby (Jennifer Grey) who finds love with a hunky non-Jewish dance instructor (Patrick Swayze), but not before they’re both drawn into a web of drama regarding secret abortions and class conflict. These days the film is mostly remembered for the culminating dance scene in which Swayze lifts a gossamer Grey into the air, and for being as cheesy as ’80s films could get. But it’s also a window into a vanished summer world.

Andy Gotlieb, managing editor
“Grease” (1978)
“Grease” remains the word more than 40 years after its initial release — I first saw it at sleepaway camp during its original release the summer of 1978.

The film screams summer, complete with its sing-along songs, hefty doses of nostalgia and eye candy in the form of Olivia Newtown-John and John Travolta. The plot is frothy enough that not a whole lot of brainpower is required to comprehend it, making it perfect for June, July and August.

For those who’ve been in a cave for decades, here’s the plot: Boy and girl (from Australia) meet over the summer. When school rolls around in the fall, they unexpectedly meet again (she was supposed to go back to Australia). Trouble ensues because she’s a “good girl” and he’s a “bad boy.” Various attempts to reconcile occur. A happy ending wraps things up.

All that said, there are a few peculiar things about “Grease.”

How about that cast of supposed high school students, many of whom have crow’s feet? Rizzo (Stockard Channing) was 34!

Or, for such a light-hearted movie, how some of the lyrics in “Greased Lightning” wouldn’t be out of place in a Lil Wayne song?

And how about the anti-girl power message that women should change themselves to win a man?

Yeah, I realize I’m overthinking it. Just enjoy the movie.

Jesse Bernstein, books editor and staff writer
“Midsommar” (2019)
If horror movies aren’t really your thing, the end of this sentence may be where you exit this ride. If you’re still with us, I implore you to watch “Midsommar,” last summer’s terrifying trip to the most horrifying locale imaginable: the picturesque Swedish countryside.

Still reeling from a traumatic event that I won’t reveal here, Dani (Florence Pugh) decides to join her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), as he and his friends follow a Swedish acquaintance to his village’s once-every-90-years midsummer celebration. Things do not go as planned as the American travelers behave poorly, turn on one another and learn more about the festival.

At the same time, Dani comes to notice increasingly concerning things about Christian (he doesn’t remember her birthday, for one). Get ready for something called an ättestupa, as well as close-up shots of severed and mutilated things that, generally speaking, you don’t want in such condition. Great score, too.

Sophie Panzer, staff writer
“High School Musical 2” (2007)
As someone who spent a good part of 1997 living in a uterus, this movie’s release in 2007 meant my childhood was profoundly shaped by the “High School Musical” franchise.

Nostalgia aside, “High School Musical 2” is the perfect movie to revive the part of your soul that died during week eight of quarantine and make it vaguely excited for summer again.

Choreographed and directed by Kenny Ortega of “Dirty Dancing” fame, the film’s premise is simple: After proving that kids from different cliques can be friends, the East High Wildcats are all set to enjoy summer when the reality of earning money for college sets in.

Everyone somehow gets jobs at the same country club, which is owned by the wealthy parents of Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) and Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale). Tensions flare along class lines as the teens prepare for rival performances at the club talent show, but as per Disney requirements, everyone is friends again by the final number.

Every song in the soundtrack is a bop. Opening number “What Time is It?” and rich-girl anthem “Fabulous,” will be stuck in your head for three weeks. While leading couple Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) have the chemistry of damp socks, the unacknowledged but undeniable sexual tension between Chad (Corbin Bleu) and Ryan in “I Don’t Dance” makes up for it.

The film is also an opportunity to congratulate yourself for surviving the fashion disaster that was the early 2000s. Low-rise jeans! Striped polos! The color aqua!

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